Like all good moments, I didn't go looking to meet Felix Solomon the other day. I meant only to reward myself with a gourmet mini-cupcake after a good writing session at the local cafe.
Woods Coffee sits on the corner of Railroad and Chestnut, a half block down from the Saturday Market. As I wrote, Market patrons milled between stalls of fresh basil and mushrooms, handcrafted baskets and lotions, and food booths boasting everything from Hawaiian Shave Ice to Indian curry to Mexican tacos. A late summer wind whipped through intermittently, a sure sign of rain later in the evening. I sat in an overstuffed leather chair and wrote about encountering a Euro-American, a blond-haired, blue-eyed slip of a woman sporting a white t-shirt with "Got white privilege?" printed in black letters. It was almost too easy to write that draft.
So it didn't take much self-convincing to take a stroll around the long way to the cupcake stand, then circle back to my car. Along the way, I tipped a bagpipe player (just returned from a festival in Scotland where he placed 6th overall) and a young violinist (bound for his first out-of-state competition) both busking for the day. After rewarding myself with a dark chocolate cupcake with vanilla buttercream frosting, I merged with the crowd picking up a basket of golden chanterelles for orange sauce later, carrots for lunches and a half dozen of my favorite Wenatchee peaches as I walked along. Turning from the fruit stand, I glanced over a small card table burdened with Salish wood carvings and small fliers I recognized from the night previous. At his First Friday concert, Swil Kanim handed out the small bookmark fliers advertising an event benefitting Felix Solomon's latest project for Maritime Park. I slowed my steps, fascinated by the model of the proposed carving that sat on the table. Shaped like a fisherman's gaffe, figures rode a longboat seaward, the prow of the boat bearing the traditional marking of the Lummi tribe.
A woman behind the table offered me a flier and knowing the cost of promo materials, I shook my head. Her face clouded with perceived rejection.
"I have one," I explained. "I'll be there." (Sunday, Sep. 13, 2pm Maritime Park)
She smiled and a man beside me started telling me about the raffle they would have to support the carving and maintenance of the finished pole. He showed me pictures of more carvings and a talking stick topped with image of a man's head, his flat cone shaped hat indicating he was a Keeper, a spirit who watches and protects.
My heartbeat quickened - it occurred to me that this couple might know Felix Solomon and maybe even how I might talk to him in person. I've been searching for a local Native carver since writing my novel draft three years ago. One pivotal character is a Salish carver and I could only glean so much about native carving from books and museum excursions. If I could actually /meet/ a carver, then I thought I'd begin to understand what makes a carver do the art they way s/he does, and make the character come alive on the page.
The man and I chatted about Swil Kanim (who'll be performing at the benefit) a bit and I looked at the table again. Near the photo album was a copy of a local magazine featuring Felix Solomon, his face and studio right on the cover. I'd read the article when it first came out, tried to find contact information about him on the 'net, but came up empty handed.
I glanced at the man talking to me, blinked, and looked back at the magazine.
"Wait," I said, looking at the man closely, recognition uncovering my eyes. "Are you... Felix Solomon?"
He chuckled. "I am."
I was floored. After years of start-stop research and dead-end leads, here was a Salish carver standing right there talking to me, trying to convince me to come out and support his work, when I had only hoped to maybe see him in the distance at the forthcoming event.
I'd like say I was smooth, explaining my project eloquently, speaking in humble, unobtrusive tones. Nope. Fangirl to the last, complete with "WOW! You're /him/! You're the guy from the magazine article I've been looking for! WOW!"
He grinned with bemusement at my enthusiasm. I, on the other hand grinned stupidly at the gift Grace was providing.
You'd think there'd be no coming back from that sort of... expressiveness, but I figured, if this was my one shot at talking with a contemporary Salish carver, I was going to ask for more.
"I was hoping to talk with you about your work for a book I'm writing," I said. He gave me his card and I promised to email him, then I noticed that his studio address was listed there too.
"Could I visit you---?" "You can come by the studio---" Came at the same moment.
Finally, after months of self doubt about the novel, one of my characters was there, in the flesh, or at least the flesh and blood carver who's personality and experience would influence my character's development was there, giving me a hug, promising to show me his work personally.
Better than a chocolate mini-cupcake with buttercream frosting, I left the Market with a true treasure, the hope of a story saved.