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Mihály Munkácsy: Yawning Apprentice (1869)
"We're none of us islands of skill …"

The Muse, who serves as the grand designer of our great refurbishing effort, makes most of the decisions because she holds the vision. I'm not just trailing behind doing her bidding, but I'm careful what I initiate, to make sure that I've communicated what I'm attempting. It's genuinely shocking how often I find that we have not reached agreement or that my notion was somehow unconscionable once I mentioned it. She chose the color after I'd set up and painted the boxes to demonstrate how they played together. I'm learning how to become indifferent to many details. Color's not my remit. Neither is style. I contribute my part without trying to take much in the way of credit, either, for I'm not doing very much by myself or even for myself. I think of myself as bringing a certain flare, a studied style of execution, often so subtle that nobody should ever notice its presence. My doors can't rival those Kurt Our Painter finishes, but they're good enough not to stand out as amateur productions. Even Kurt consults with me, as I continually consult with him, both of us serving as if not servants, then apprentices to some larger context, one only The Muse understands.

That's not to say that she's not persuadable.
She still holds a stone or two in her pocket about the impossibility of stripping the grand bannister to bare wood and varnishing it. Both Kurt and I finally convinced her that even if we expended the effort, the grain exposed had not been picked for show and so no showcase would result. Furthermore, there were weeks of work involved. The cost/benefit wasn't apparent. There was plenty of effort required to prep and paint it without adding the random influence of more than a century ago's carpenter's wood choices. She relented, but still wistfully wishes it could have been different.

It was her who insisted that the front hallway needed to be anchored with wallpaper, a paper which would introduce the whole color scheme in a glance. She originally thought we'd just retain the existing stuff, but closer scrutiny showed that it had been both ineptly hung and subsequently beaten up. It was a pain to remove and paint over and to dig out of corners, but Kurt and I as his apprentice managed to create a suitable blank canvas upon which to mount her new masterpiece. She chose a period design with curling vines, flowers, and birds, though I'd long argued against bird wallpaper, on general principles. After reviewing dizzying dozens of not-quite-right choices, I rediscovered my indifference—liking that wall paper was also never a part of my commission— and she ordered it. It was lighter than I'd imagined and also perfect, reconfirming that I was never the designer on this project but more of a yawning apprentice.

Then came the need to find somebody to hang that paper. I'd naively thought that The Muse would perform the deed, or at least direct it. She's, after all, successfully matched patterns while reupholstering furniture and making clothes, even creating her own patterns, so I figured that a flat plane would offer little challenge, but wallpapering's different. There's a definite feel to it and a skill rarely practiced becomes indistinguishable from one never practiced before. The wallpaper store gave me a name and a number of one of the last professional wallpaperers left in the valley, but his voice mailbox was full and he didn't pick up. The wallpaper was best hung before any entryway trim was reworked and rehung, so it could become the critical path, holding up progress and idling workers. I suggested she recruit a friend, someone also somewhat experienced, and so she did. Two blind women off in search of an elephant of which they will later be forever proud. Or another I Love Lucy episode. Probably both.

None of this work has been completed in isolation. It's all been an unlikely and slightly sideways collaboration, with much discovery and realization accompanying it. The much-touted DIY movement doesn't seem to understand this small truth, that we're all actually apprentices, with even the experts dependent upon some designer or sponsor or somebody else. We're none of us islands of skill, but isthmuses. It's all collaboration. Even when I'm flying solo, somebody else made the plane.

©2021 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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