Let me be direct, just as she was. Sue Raine shoved me through the “art road” door. It wasn’t sweet and tender like your mother on that first day of school. But neither was she the drill sergeant barking me over the wall. She was a smart, discerning lady who recognized the scared reluctance of a “gifted” artist who was trying to decide which road to take.
Here’s our story: It was 1995, and I had gathered my new art tools, built an art booth (Big mistake! See previous post), and jumped into the first show that would have me. It was a travelling, class B western mess whose first stop was Arlington, Texas. “Best of the West” has a nice ring to it, but nothing about it could claim the title of “Best”.
I had painted 17 new originals and priced them based on my perception of how they’d turned out. The second day of the show started like the first day ended…. Dismal. No traffic and no interest in my work. But all that was about to change!
Late in the afternoon, a larger than life redhead and her sidekick, Charline Haynes, strolled into my booth and screamed at the top of their lungs, “Oh, my God, it’s ‘Cowboy Prayer’!” You should know that my marketing plan for this show consisted of a 1/16th page ad in Southwest Art magazine of a painting titled “Cowboy Prayer”. Do you think it was coincidence that this small ad, buried in the back of Southwest Art, was the impetus for our meeting? I don't! God sent her to me that day, and she was just what I needed.
|Late Day, Long Shadows|
In the meantime, all my synapses were firing. These two must be looking for a different artist. Then the strangest thing happened. The Redhead moves to the center of my booth and strikes a pose. She leans back on her heels, folds her arms across her chest and proceeds to evaluate each painting. She narrows it down to two. It’s between “Cowboy Prayer” and “Late Day, Long Shadows”.
You ask how I remember? I remember because this is the day that I was launched by my first customer, who would become my good friend. She bought “Late Day, Long Shadows”, but those words … “Oh my God, it’s Cowboy Prayer!” … are still as fresh in my mind today. We would laugh about it over a hundred dinners in the coming years.
My next artistic endeavor soon followed; a private showing at her home, with additional support from Charline. The two of them came together as a set, much like dueling pistols. When they decided on a course of action, you better get out of their way! The result was a night I’ll never forget. We had a most successful show and I sold nine original paintings that night. I’m not sure even they thought it was possible.
Looking back, I see that Sue Raine did for me what no one else had. She gave me the art baton and said, “GO!” I could never repay her for such an unselfish, generous gift. She became much more than my First Collector. She became a friend. We spent nights on her deck, or huddled around the fire pit at her daughter’s home, laughing until we cried about her antics and excesses.
|My friend, Sue Raine|
There was the time she and Charline battled the wilderness with a 2-foot long Summer Sausage and a snub-nosed .38. There was also the time she fell off a ladder setting up the world’s largest collection of Christmas villages, and broke her nose and received two black eyes. The best story is about the time she thought she was putting eye drops in her eyes, but ended up gluing them shut with nail glue. Pam and I got talked into making hundreds of sandwiches at the Round Rock Blue Grass Festival … (“C’mon! It will be fun!”). We joined her in celebrating her 2-year-old grandson Jake doing championship swan dives off her queen-sized headboard in her HUGE bedroom. Life was a party!
Unfortunately, we only had a small window to meet and spend time with Miss “Larger Than Life”. She said she wanted to cross life’s finish line sliding across at full speed, laughing and out of money, because she would have lived the life she wanted. You know what? She did just that. She had survived an earlier bout with breast cancer, but this time it would attack her brain. She left this world on May 1, 2002 and it hasn’t been the same since.
One of the blessings she left us is the friendship we have forged with Sue’s daughter and son-in-law. Our relationship with Deanne and Shawn is the legacy of that first loud connection in Arlington, Texas, seven years prior.
I often think about what she would think of my career, and what advice she would give me. But there isn’t a time that I don’t sit at a fire pit and think of the good times we had, and that I don’t secretly thank her for kicking me through that door. And something tells me she hears me.
Tomorrow I will post the story of "Cowboy Prayer" and you can meet the instrument of our fateful meeting and ensuing friendship.
All content and images © Mark Kohler Studio.