My Very First Art Exhibit. Almost.

My hometown has a community center complete with two swimming pools (for competitions and high diving), game rooms, classrooms, theatre, and art gallery. (I’m sure it’s changed over the years, but that’s how I remember it.) My great-aunt volunteered there for the art exhibits, and my grandmother sent me there some summers for pottery classes or movies (like The Cat from Outer Space and Escape to Witch Mountain). The only time I ever saw my grandmother dress up for a night out was to go to art openings there, and I’d be allowed to accompany her. Having adults talk to me about art and being able to take a small plate of fancy-looking food from the long linen-covered table always delighted me.

We really only did this a handful of times and had stopped by the time I reached high school. And my central Florida hometown then was well under 20,000 people. I’m sure by art world standards, our art exhibits weren’t as fancy as I thought they were, but they certainly meant a lot to me.

In 5th grade, we were told that art made by students from area schools would be given a show at the community center. Something I’d made was chosen! I’d made a mobile with paper and string. Several winged horses I’d drawn and cut out from heavy paper hung from paper cloud. How excited I was to see it in a gallery with its fancy lighting and being looked at by adults sipping wine.

The evening of the opening, I dressed up and so did my grandmother. I can’t remember if my parents went that night. Mostly I just remember walking in with my grandmother and being stopped at the door. One of the adults in charge of the event wanted to talk to us.

There’d been a break-in the night before, she told us. The burglars damaged some property and stole a lot of things, including some of the art. They’d had several pieces of art in storage, she said. And so some of it was gone as well as some of the art by the children, like my winged-horse mobile.

We entered the gallery space and while plenty of art still hung on the walls, there were empty spaces here and there.

I was so confused. Someone would steal a paper mobile?

I wonder now if that was true. Perhaps they’d lost it or damaged it. Perhaps they thought telling us the pieces had been stolen would be better somehow. I went around for years thinking someone had stolen my art. And maybe they did…? It seems unlikely, but if they did, I hope it brought someone happiness. I hope it hung in a room somewhere, looking magical.

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