Friday, June 6, 2014

The Felt Factory

Well, just noticed this title has been up a week, so that must be what I'm supposed to write about!  Or it might mean I'm still not quite 'here' yet...more on re-entry next time, but for now...focus....the felt factory. 

One of our field artists has volunteered for almost two years at a local felt factory in Villar Pellice (scene of the famous birthday pizza), developing a relationship with the woman who runs it.  She arranged a visit for us, and was excited to report at almost the last minute, the week of the festival, that Barbara had agreed to give us a tour.  

Well, maybe not the best week for us to go...but the visual artists had time and we had guests, so early Monday morning, a bunch of us scrambled to get ready.  When I learned the tour would be free, I ran up to my room to grab a few gifts--some chocolate, soap and, random, a pair of peeper keepers I had made years ago.  A little embarrassing, but the best I could come up with to at least acknowledge our host's very generous offer.  I found a bit of ribbon and an old chocolate factory wrapping--fluffed up everything to look somewhat presentable (presentation is big in Italy), and sighed.  "Well, at least it's coming from a grateful heart," I thought, and hurried back downstairs.
Off we went--a half hour late, one of the very few times during the school that happened.    

Barbara was not amused by our charming, high-energy and fashionably late selves, which surprised me for someone living in Italy; but Barbara was British, a no-nonsense business woman, and clearly put out by our tardiness.  We dutifully apologized and agreed that the tour might have to be cut short for another appointment she had.  We gave her our utmost attention from then on. 

The tour quickly inflammed our imagination, which was probably the highest reward we could have given her.  Throw artists into a bunch of color, fibers, and cavernous architectural studio spaces, and they are soon salivating...and Barbara started to relax.  

We saw some of the most amazing equipment: one loom, one of only two in the world, filled a space larger than my whole apartment.  Skiens of wool hung from the ceiling, larger than most of us, and we compared the different types of wool and processes that Barbara led us through.  

At the end of the tour, Barbara ushered us into the cafe/gift shop, and served us tea, coffee and cake.  She told us her story, including how she had created the felt factory in such a way that the blind could come in and experience everything, and create.  She held classes for them regularly.  We commented on what a great space it would have made for us for an  exhibit, or classes in, and she immediately invited us to do so next time.  Whatever appointment she had had, it seemed to have been forgotten. 

When it came time to present her with my tiny little gifts, hastily thrown into a gently-used gift bag, she looked astonished.  She ripped into the bag with all the enthusiasm of a child at Christmas and received each one with delight.  She was especially charmed by the peeper keepers (to my astonishment), and promptly wrapped them around her wrist: "I could make a bracelet!"  

From then on, we were best buds, but now late for lunch at Forterocca. Barbara couldn't thank me enough for the peeper keeper, and I shook her hand, thanked her and expressed my delight at her delight. We wished her well and invited her to our exhibits and performances.  And that was that...or so I thought. 

After lunch, we came outside to find Barbara rushing in--someone had left their camera case behind.  

And she did indeed come to our exhibit--several times.  One of those times, I was back at the ranch, banging out some presentation on my computer, when a student came in to say, "Someone here to see you!"  Barbara, jangling her newly-created peeper keeper bracelet, smiling broadly.  She had made a special trip to again thank me profusely, and had brought a gift in return: a little felt slipper on a key chain.   

I began bumping into her in town, and always got a wave that included a pulled-up sleeve to show off the peeper keeper bracelet.  One rainy day, head down under my umbrella, a hand intruded.  My eyes focused and saw--yep, the peeper keeper bracelet.  Barbara was looking for me for a cup of coffee. 

Whatever this little tiny offering meant in the depths of Barbara's heart, I don't know.  I could only laugh at the sheer delight it obviously brought her, reminding me again of giving what I have, not what I don't.  A crusty exterior melted over the simplest of gifts, and I got to see it.  God can use anything, even peeper keepers. 

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