(This is early 1997, I think. I am more guilty every year of the “townie introduction.” Also, I’ve left in the sidebar about Marcella Stasa because this year I finally bought the full-on year subscription to Miniature Art, and it’s completely wonderful, and highly recommended.)
Shake hands and smile
Some townies don’t know each other — and don’t want to. Also, a tour of Miniature Art.
by Sally Cragin
Residents of Tritown seldom have the opportunity to meet someone new, because nearly everyone is related, if not by blood then by employment history or a shared school past. Hollis the Mountain Man is the least sociable denizen of Tritown, yet he’s frequently persuaded by his father and mother to appear at local gatherings. “To swell the headcount,” says his mother, a political maven on both town and state levels.
One afternoon, when the sun is warm, he sits on the porch facing the lake with Delia Ellis Bell the Partial Yankee (there was a questionable great-great-grandmother). Hollis tells her his mother recently commanded him to appear at a dinner to benefit a local river clean-up. He only agreed to attend because flannel shirt and dungarees were an acceptable costume for an environmental event. Delia wanted to hear gossip, but all Hollis could talk about were his father’s well-meaning but awkward attempts to acquaint him with various attendees.
(The `Townie Introduction’ is a specialized formality, usually containing a dissertation’s worth of background information, extraneous genealogy, and footnoted asides.)
Hollis begins, “My Dad actually introduced me to an old geezer with this phrase: `Hollis, you remember Mr. Fogarty, who used to go hunting with your Uncle Wilton? Well, his daughter is the step-cousin of Mr. Flinty here, whose wife used to work at the handcrafts table at the Hospital Fair with your mother.’ Then Mr. Fogarty — or Mr. Flinty, I was really confused by this time — held out his hand and smiled and said, `Hollis, I knew your brother, Mason, better than you, because he used to come cut the grass at my sister Frances’s place. But then, of course, I used to see your Dad at the Honorable Brotherhood of Moose barbecue in the summer.’”
“Your eyes must have glazed over,” Delia says. “So who was the old geezer, anyway?”
“Dunno,” Hollis shrugs. “I just shook hands and smiled, like Ma told me to. But that wasn’t the worst of it.”
“Oh really,” says Delia. “Do tell . . . ”
“Well,” Hollis begins haltingly. “There was this kind-of attractive woman there — unfortunately, completely, obviously married,” he supplies.
“Howdja know?” asks Delia.
“Well, a big clunker on the relevant finger,” he continues. “Plus, when she heard my name, she said, `Oh, my husband went to school with your brother, Mason, and my cousin Muffin has a summer-house on The Point where your uncle Webster and aunt Winnie live.’”
Hollis fiddles with his fraying shirtcuff. Formal socializing tends to leave him with an emotional hangover, and he has small capacity for meeting new faces, even appealing female ones.
“Oh, well,” Delia says. “Maybe if she becomes available, you’ll at least know how to track her down.” Then the other shoe drops. “`Muffin’?!” she cackles. “I didn’t know Webster and Winnie, the consummate Granite State pair, actually crossed paths with preppy swells . . . “
“They don’t!” he insists. “Webster and Winnie live near the same bass-crammed lake in New Hampshire they’ve lived near for 40 years. It’s the preppy swells who cross paths with them!”
“Well, you don’t have to yell!” she barks irritably. For a moment, all is silent at the Mountain Lair. Delia and Hollis sit on the front porch, watching a breeze ripple the newly melted pond.
Most of the snow has melted, but patches remain in the shady areas. Overhead, birds twitter companionably, and the spring sun warms the earth, prompting a rich aroma of humus to waft about the Mountain Lair. Hollis speaks first. “I hate parties,” he grumbles. “The people you already know, you met already, and the other people you’re never going to see again, so what’s the point?”
“Hollis,” Delia says, with an edge in her voice. “Your mother manages to persuade you into the social arena about twice a year, which is a tiny percentage of your time, really.”
He thinks for a moment, and then exhales loudly. “Yeah, that’s true. No matter how social she gets, there’s a limit. And, eventually, Mason and Sunshine’s Tots will grow up, and she can get them to go to parties.”
“A perfect plan,” says Delia, and then snickers softly. “`Muffin’ and the Mountain Clan — what a pairing.” Hollis shoots her a poisonous look, and she diplomatically changes the subject. “Uh, Hollis? Didn’t I see a tray of goodies from that party in your fridge? Ham salad “bunwiches,” three-bean salad, and coconut tea-cake? Feel like having a snack?”
“Might as well,” he says, bounding to his feet. “I got so nervous at that party, I just kept stashing food for later.”
“And you call yourself an amateur partygoer,” chides Delia good- naturedly, leading him back to the kitchen.
Small is beautiful for the recipients of Upton-based artist Marcella Stasa’s unique “Miniature Art of the Month Club.” For the past dozen years, she has constructed, packaged, and mailed charming — and tiny — works of art to subscribers. One month recipients might get a dried leaf, inked and waxed, that’s been crocheted around the edges. Another month might bring an “installation” constructed of wire, shells, chamois cloth, and ink no bigger than a matchbox.
At the end of a year, one has an exhibit of tiny masterpieces, all linked thematically or by material. “I’ll create something that is a miniature `space,’ so that if you were a mouse, you could enjoy it,” says the artist. “Part of what I want to convey is a sense of intimacy and magic — even ethereal.”
Stasa’s work has been exhibited at a variety of galleries, studios, and museums, and she is the recipient of numerous state and foundation grants. She is one of the rare artists who supports her art — with other art.
For the past 13 years, Stasa has been running Miniature Art as an adjunct to her principal occupation as a ceramicist (her whimsical clay animals are on sale in Cambridge (Cambridge Artist’s Coop, and Suzie’s Gallery), Rockport, and in studios in San Francisco, Chicago, and elsewhere. She mails Miniature Art of the Month all over the country.
“I want my hand in every one,” she says. “Telling people why art is important is hard, because it may not be as important as feeding your kids, but feeding your mind is important. I feel that’s what I teach people to do — open up their minds.”
For more information, send an SASE to: Miniature Art, 211 North Street, Upton 01568.