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An Unexpected Gift from a Stranger

Updated: Mar 6, 2021

I love walking around art fairs, but I rarely buy anything. The pieces I have taken home are ones that have really spoken to me, and that ‘lightning bolt’ reaction only happens once in a blue moon. It did happen, though, at last weekend’s Ann Arbor Art Fair.

I had just entered the art fair when I saw an interesting booth with small figures etched in what looked like ivory set in wood-carved frames. I stepped over and was greeted by a nice, middle-aged gentleman - the artist I now know is Kim McClelland, co-owner of Tree of Life Art Works. Slowly, I examined the pieces. On the back wall of the booth I spotted an etching of a tree blowing in the wind. Below the tree, it read: Bent…Not…Broken…

I instantly knew I had to have it. I briefly told the artist about some of what I’d been through the past year, and continued to look at his other work. A minute later, Kim walked over to me, his hand outstretched, holding the piece. It was already wrapped in paper.

“Here, I want to give this to you,” he said. I couldn’t believe it. I know how difficult it is to make a living as an artist. I told him I was planning to purchase it and tried to insist on paying, but he wouldn’t take my money. I gave him a hug and told him how much that meant to me, and that his piece would always serve as a reminder of what I’d overcome.

One year ago this Tuesday, I went in for a fairly routine surgery and experienced a serious medical error. What was supposed to be six weeks of medical leave turned into a total of four months, another major corrective surgery, and countless procedures and tests. I had chronic pain for much of the year, in addition to the emotional toll it took on me and my family.

I didn’t tell the artist all of this, of course, but I did say I’d been through two major surgeries. I told him I may be scarred, but I made it through and felt very fortunate to be feeling nearly 100% again.

I still cannot believe how generous he was, how he didn’t even hesitate before taking that piece off the wall, wrapping it and handing it to me. It was so reaffirming, and so much more than something to hang on my wall. It reminded me why I love art and artists; how art connects us to each other and the world around us. So to my creative friends - keep writing, drawing, painting, sculpting and singing. Keep creating, because you never know who you might move.

I wanted to share the Artist Statement from the Tree of Life Art Works website because it’s such a cool story:

“Kim and Katherine McClelland are the husband/wife/artists/owners of Tree of Life Art Works, creating original scrimshaw since 1976. Even as a child, Kim loved drawing pen and ink imagery which helped prepare him for the detail scrimshaw requires. After finishing his art degree, Kim first discovered scrimshaw by making their wedding rings from antique piano keys. Working with organic materials such as shed antlers and fossil ivories dating back thousands of years, plus sculptural-casting resins, our process insures each hand-cast resin ART WORK has the exact fidelity of our original. No endangered animals visit our art studio.

Katherine and Kim draw on their imagination, faith and life experience when designing new pieces as well as suggestions from their faithful patrons.

Historically scrimshaw is a nautical engraving art indigenous to America. Sailors on board whaling ships "scrimmed" designs on whale teeth and bones using a sharp tool. (It actually was coined a thrifty waste of time.) Ink or oil and soot were then rubbed into the cuts and wiped away to reveal the incised image. Tree of Life still uses this basic process.”

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