I RECENTLY visited a local antiques/collectibles shop in Carmarthen, on the hunt for a religious figurine. In our farmhouse in the Towy Valley in west Wales, there is an old stone niche in the dining room where I often light a candle. I thought a statue of Jesus, or Mary and Child, would imbue the little space with an appropriate atmosphere. The sizeable shop where I chose to start my hunt was chock-full of stuff, mostly vintage items with a scattering of antiques. It’s a co-operative emporium, with many stallholders, and so plenty to see over its two floors.
Just before going up the stairs, I spotted a charcoal drawing hanging very precariously on the wall, high up, and looking as if it was about to fall. The frame was badly damaged, and the glass was cracked, but something about it caught my attention. I couldn’t find anyone to ask whether I could take it down to inspect it more closely; so I lifted it very gingerly off the wall, with its grey cobwebs clinging to it.
It was really intriguing. It was titled Spooky Woman with Kid. Hm, I thought — judging by the crown, the serenity and humility of the woman looking down, and the uprightness and the gaze of her child looking out at us, His flock: definitely not.
It was priced at £68; so, not a fortune. But, as I paint and collect art, another piece of artwork was really not what I was after. As it was unsafe to try to rehang it, I placed it carefully on the floor beneath where it had hung and continued upstairs; but found nothing else of interest and left the shop.
MANY years ago, before I began my rather protracted journey towards ordained ministry in the Church in Wales, I ran my own town-centre art gallery in Carmarthen. I used to advise walk-ins who absolutely fell in love with a piece of art to think very carefully about leaving it behind, as they’d very probably regret not buying it for many years to come. All of that I knew, from experience, to be true.
Well, I definitely loved the charcoal drawing and kept thinking about it for days afterwards, and so — remembering my advice to all those visitors to my gallery who’d felt like me — I decided to go back to the shop to buy it. Mask on and hands sanitised, I made for the spot where I’d left it. It was gone.
This time, I managed to find the person running the shop, and asked after the drawing. I was told that the stallholder had been in and taken it away because it was falling apart. I said that I would like to see it again. The manager offered to phone the stallholder, but there was no answer. She said she’d try to get in touch with him, and ask him, if he still had it, to bring it back in. I left my name (without titles), and landline number.
A week later, I still hadn’t heard back from the shop; so I called in again. “Sorry,” the manager said, “he hasn’t been back in since you were here last.” I tried to forget about it, and reasoned to myself that I could live without it.
Another week passed, and then I received a call to my mobile. A female voice asked me if I was the Revd Dr Caroline Jones; when I said yes, she explained that the shop had taken my number down incorrectly, but had managed to track me down online. She told me that the stallholder had returned the sketch. I went in immediately.
The sketch had been reframed, and displayed a red sticker declaring it “on hold”. Beside it was another label, with a newly designated title: Madonna and Christ-child; and the picture was repriced at only £25. Oh, happy days! I didn’t haggle, and paid cash.
I AM really delighted with the picture: it is quite mesmerising. And I love the fact that it morphed from Spooky Woman with Kid to Madonna and Christ-child just because I’d shown an interest in it. There’s a lesson there, too, I think, and it’s about seeing and seeking. They hadn’t seen what I had, but, by association, they were clearly able to recognise it as something other than they had first thought it to be.
I also got a distinct impression that the people involved — the manager and the stallholder — really enjoyed being part of this remarkable transition; of finding Jesus in the junk shop. And, since he is everywhere, and our job as believers is to take every opportunity to demonstrate this to others, why not?
A few days later, the stallholder rang me to say he was really glad that I had bought the picture. He told me that he’d liked it a lot, but his wife hated it and wouldn’t have it the house. He then said that he wanted to give me a box of porcelain church plates as a gift, and, although I’ve offered to pay for them, he won’t accept anything. As I write, I am to collect his gift box next week. It seems to me that this little work of art goes on giving — just like its subject. Hallelujah — and amen.
The Revd Dr Caroline Jones is Priest-in-Charge of Bro Aman, in the diocese of St Davids.