The chairs–by themselves–looked unremarkable to the casual passer-by. Years of use had faded their azure hue to a dull bluish-gray. The lusterless material did little to recommend them, other than offer a molded plastic rest for a group of weary humans.
I watched as an aging volunteer set out rows of the chairs on the shiny linoleum-tiled floor of the Fine Arts Center. He calmly wheeled one stack out, maneuvering them around with a practiced hand. Row after row appeared, like gray-blue soldiers at ease lined up around a center aisle, waiting for their commander to appear and make them stand at attention.
An air of resignation hovered over each chair which only added to the quaintly austere feel in the main room of the center. They were not artist’s chairs at all, but rather accompaniments to the arts… nameless roadies–working behind the scenes–for a traveling rock band, waiting in plastic limbo for someone important to show up. Dented and worn, the chairs bore the scrapes of a thousand hands, spills, run-ins and weights. Some looked nearly pristine while others had apparently endured a quasi-violent past.
The volunteer informed me—as he carefully constructed his rows—that these chairs had been donated to the arts center by a local high school. His grateful expression and earnest demeanor lent the chairs a calm nobility I’d not detected earlier. Precisely did the old man set them out and straighten and once satisfied with their placement, he stepped sideways—to the next row—to repeat the process.
Chilly fall air drifted in through the open glass doors, along with the sound of passing cars. Off the main room a teacher’s muffled voice could be heard, instructing a group of budding young artists on the importance of hue and color blending. I watched the white-haired volunteer tilt his head a little towards the sound. Certainly, he’d heard the lessons many times before, but he still nodded to himself and smiled as he set out a colorful flyer on the seat of each plastic chair.
A single wooden easel stood on the stage, facing the chairs. Its paint spattered front and turned spindles stood in sharp contrast to the modern plastic and chromed legs of the audience. Despite their worn appearance, a silent chuckle seemed to rise into the air above the chairs, a collective mocking sigh at the easel’s expense. It seemed to bear the implied scorn well, however. Standing as elegantly as its rigid legs would permit, the easel reveled in how the overhead lights glinted off the green enameled paint flecks gracing its left side… like so many shined medals on a general’s coat.
The lines of chairs sat in their silent rows amid the paintings, sculptures & whispering students, relaxing back into their molded routine. Artists began arriving, a few minutes ahead of their monthly meeting–each greeting the white-haired volunteer by name–holding portfolios and gabbing about the upcoming art gala. The volunteer answered their greetings with a nod, stooping down to nudge an end chair back into line. One artist teetered on unsteady shoes by the first row, letting her string bag of oranges drop into the nearest chair.
If the other seats could have turned to look, they would have.