I used to use the Birchwood Kitchen as my office away from my office.
It was at the center of where I often found myself when I was neither at home nor at work. For the cost of an iced tea (and sometimes not even that, as I was a “regular” and often received drinks and desserts “on the house”) I had a place where I could check my emails, do some writing, take meetings or just stop and sit in between where I was and where I was going.
Sometimes the Art Institute feels like that too. Like today — Artist Date 96.
I’m sitting in the member lounge drinking puerh ginger tea and checking Facebook on my phone. Behind me, a couple is telling the bartender their story. It appears they met online — he is from London — and they are meeting now for the first time. Perhaps not now exactly — but this day, this week, this visit. It sounds crazy and exciting. I wonder how it will all turn out. I wonder if the bartender wonders, or if she is even listening.
My ex-husband used to love to come here because it made him feel just a little bit like a big shot. Flashing his card and drinking free coffee. And hey, who doesn’t like to feel just a little bit like a big shot every once in a while.
I suppose in some small way, that is what membership is about. A reward for faithfulness and patronage. Be it a free beverage, a bag with a logo, discounts or a place to stop in between here and there. And when done well, evokes a sense of identity and belonging. “One of us.”
It whispers to my unrealized teenage dream of attending art school, which at the time, I thought was the only way to be an artist. (I was wrong.)
I am reminded of this as I make my way downstairs to the Edith Stein: Master Weaver exhibit.
The exhibit is small, and there is just one other person in the gallery viewing the work. (There are two Art Institute employees here also — one of them, in my opinion, talking too loudly.)
It doesn’t move me in quite the way I had hoped. I imagined my internal seven-year-old, the one who made potholders on a plastic loom with loopers, awakened, inspired to create. Instead, I am completely enchanted by this 90-something-year-old woman.
Trained in sculpture, she turned her attention to textiles when she was in her 60s. A video loops over and again, showing her working in the studio — clad in heavy sneakers, mixing dye in a pot on top of the stove and immersing wool yarn into it as if it was pasta.
I sit on the bench in the center of the room, watching the short film several times. It is both soothing and inspiring. I want to be like her. Still working, still passionate, respected, at the top of her game.
I want to be like her when I am in my 90s. I want to be like her now.
Working. Passionate. Respected.
At the top of my game.
A little bit of a big shot.
It begins with working.