Good Trades

Most artists I know are regular traders, swapping their work for pieces from other creative types. Such trades typically have very little to do with money — they’re mostly about trading ideas & inspirations. That’s what makes them so valuable.

My first such trade was in Boulder, in the early 1970s. The Naropa Institute was new to Boulder and Karma Dzong was hosting its first annual Christmas fair in what is now the Boulder Book Store. At the time I was mostly doing bead work, and the artist in the booth next to me was offering antique hand-carved fetishes. We traded compliments and our influences, and soon it was natural that we also swapped our artwork — she chose a bead embroidered wall hanging of mine and I left with some of her exquisite fetishes. Best of all, we both left our new friendship and some fresh ideas! Today I treasure the talisman I made from the trade pieces as much as I did then.

The ones of note in the photo below are the ancient abalone fish, the jade bird from Wyoming, the Mother of Pearl heart, soapstone bear and small Hudson Bay Company glass beads. I found the silver and turquoise charm of the child at a playground in a Washington, DC, neighborhood that later led me to Colorado, an ideal place for an artist. It must have been from these times that forged my dedication to make talismans and share the power they contain.

First Talisman with trade fetishes, 1971 by Kathleen O'Brien

First Talisman with trade fetishes, 1971 by Kathleen O’Brien

Liz Crain, a “Ceramic Fun Agent,” is one of my more recent inspirations as well as a good friend, even though we’ve never met in person. Liz is a bit far away (in Capitola, California) but that hasn’t prevented us from trading ideas and artwork. I’m proud to have two of her pieces in my collection, and she has one of my “Good Trade talismans” in hers.

Liz Crain's Crazy Heart Scum Salve and Finast Spice Tin, front view

Liz Crain’s Crazy Heart Scum Salve and Finast Spice Tin, front view

Liz has a wonderful sense of humor that she expresses in fully-functional ceramic vessels that resemble rusty vintage beer cans, spice tins, and canisters with her own brands, all of which feature her witty messages. Even her packing materials bring a smile to the face — for example, she uses a bit of “Quake Hold” sticky stuff to keep her pieces in place during shipment. (No doubt quite comforting for her California customers!) When her shipment arrived at my doorstep, I was also pleased by the fresh bay leaves she enclosed that are now drying on my windowsill, for use in an upcoming soup!

Liz Crain's Crazy Heart Scum Salve and Finast Spice Tin, back view

Liz Crain’s “Crazy Heart Scum Salve” and “Finast Spice Tin”, back view

Liz wrote about trading, which summoned memories of the ‘bonuses’ of trading… I love looking back over decades of swaps with talented artists, my accountant, acupuncturist, dentist, all of us benefiting from the shared inspirations and friendships. “Good Trades,” indeed!

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