May 15, 2012

Loft illusions

Filed under: Uncategorized — theresaurus @ 7:32 am

My father’s loft in Seattle, forgot I had pictures. Large photo is a sort of close-up of the dining room, one of my father’s paintings hangs on the wall. Top left of smaller photos (click to enlarge) is the kitchen with sleeping space above. Living room, next two pictures. Bottom left, dining area. Next, a view from the dining area into the office space, then the shower. A light fixture from the loft I took after my father died — a dead man’s light fixture!

He didn’t notice, and his young assistant didn’t notice, but anyone with a wisp of sensitivity felt an unsettling energy as soon as they walked in. Many of the things he collected were religious artifacts of one kind or another, a real hodgepodge. The Indonesian and African ones I was most leery of. There were Shinto shrines, Buddhist shrines, crucifixes, the television was stored in an old Catholic confessional, the hallway fitted with something else from a church. His own art was religious, he was a liturgical artist, churches around the country commissioned work from him. He was a great artist but a lousy businessman. But what are you going to do, these aren’t the big drive-in mega-churches with deep pockets, just regular Lutheran congregations keeping things going on a shoe-string. Lutherans aren’t exactly known to be big spenders.

I’ve never understood paying huge amounts of money for art. A painting is paint on a piece of canvas. So what? A dancer spends her career dancing night after night and nobody gives her ten thousand dollars a performance. She lives on ten thousand dollars a year. Some years back Nagoya city spent a ridiculous amount for sculptures by a foreign artist. Hideous, absolutely hideous. Primary colors, cheap looking plastic or something that looks like plastic, I don’t remember what the hell it was supposed to be. Hideous sculpture does not age well. Art should be an everyday thing, as it used to be in pre-industrial Japan, not something that only the rich can afford and people are made to feel that they have to study it to “understand” it.

Sam and I were supposed to spend a week at my father’s loft while he was away but after one night I insisted on making other plans. Not only was the place spooky, which I can deal with, but I discovered that some of the windows didn’t close all the way (his place was on the ground floor) and the lock on the door to the loading elevator area didn’t work — like an invitation to any passing criminal to please come right on in, slit my throat, make yourself at home. Naturally I didn’t sleep that night. When I complained to my father he told a story of being woken up one night by voices. Two guys were coming in through the window, but when they shined their flashlights on all those Balinese figures and hanging things one of them got superstitious and refused to go in and they left. Guard antiques.

This makes me think of a story from the Wing Luke Museum (Asian art) in Seattle’s International District. The museum director told a reporter that she began to realize that spirits were something she had to think about in the administration of the museum. When she mounted an exhibit on Tibet she found out: “There is a religion in Tibet that predates and was actually the shamanistic predecessor of Tibetan Buddhism, called Bon. For the exhibit we managed to borrow several of these Bon shamanistic objects from a private collector, along with ritual objects of Tibetan Buddhism. The collector told me that there was a lot of tension between the gods and spirits of the two religions. I wasn’t paying too close attention to it, and I put the two sets of objects together in the same case. Within five minutes the case shattered.” (From Ghost Stories from the Pacific Northwest.) 

Most of the tenants used the lofts as working spaces and lived elsewhere, and it was located in the industrial district, so things got deserted by late afternoon. This was on the border of Georgetown, was one of the oldest settlements in Seattle (1851), home to breweries and saloons and one of those places that boomed and bust, and time passed it by. This allowed the preservation of Victorian era houses and buildings, but it’s also a place the police don’t go, ideal for criminal activity. Artists and musicians started moving in during the 1990s when the rest of Seattle was enjoying another boom and rents were going up, but I don’t know if the area really took off. Somehow I think it might be able to stubbornly resist gentrification. I made my sister drive Sam and me around Georgetown to see the buildings and we teased Sam that we were going to drop him off. He doesn’t scare that easily, but he begged us not to do so and kept making sure the doors were locked.

There’s a well-known ghost story from Georgetown. A couple of guys bought a run-down fourteen-room mansion (nicknamed The Castle) built in 1889 that had been a dance hall, gambling den, and brothel during the ’20s and ’30s. (Seattle really should have a living museum type of thing of the whorehouses and saloons that were so prevalent in Wild West days, but I guess if one snoops too much into the city’s history it’s embarrassing how many of Seattle’s great men married former “entertainers” — fascinating women.) The men had been living in the house a few weeks (this was in the 70s) before they met their resident ghost, Sarah, described as a tall, thin woman in a floor-length skirt and white blouse with a Victorian-era hairstyle.

Dozens of people had run-ins with Sarah while staying at the house, like the woman who woke in the night to see Sarah going through her suitcases, and the man with jet lag who got up in the middle of the night to make toast and couldn’t find bread until a loaf came rolling down the counter at him. One day an old woman came to the house and announced that she was the granddaughter of the man who had built the house and that Sarah was her great aunt. Sarah’s brother-in-law had run the business with a handsome Spanish partner whom she had an affair with and a child by. The man murdered the child and hid the body under the porch and possibly strangled Sarah in a room on the third floor.

I started off describing my father’s loft and ended up with ghosts of strangled brothel residents.


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