unplain jane studio



Wrong tool, right job

People ask me how my business is going. Friends ask me about my van. After a hiatus from blogging due in part to the tangled relationship between my business, my van and me, it’s clear I must extricate one for the sake of the others. Blogging is cheaper than therapy. Here we go.

I bought my company car on impulse, which is the antithesis of how I usually do, well, anything.

When I decided to launch my own business, I knew I needed to focus on two things: build relationships and gain exposure for my work. In the fine art world, one means to that end is to take your show on the road. Specifically, juried art festivals across the country.

“Juried” means that artists are invited to participate based on the quality of their work. “Festival” implies that the event is outdoors, and nine times out of ten, that’s true. If you’ve never been to a juried festival, imagine rows of small, white tents lining thoroughfares of downtowns or shopping plazas or parks. Typically, festivals are set up on Friday, open Saturday morning and close the next day by 6:00 p.m. Under each tent, each artist builds a temporary gallery designed to highlight his or her creations. Everything under — and including — the tent is owned and operated by that artist. Up, in, out and down in 72 hours.

Imagine the sheer girth of it all: carefully bubble-wrapped artwork, heavy-duty 10’ x 10’ tent, 8’ display walls, rigging, lighting, tent weights (it’s windy in Texas), rain gear (it’s rainy in Texas), fans (it’s hot in Texas), and other miscellany. It certainly became clear to me that neither our Honda Civic nor CR-V would do the trick. Until NASA perfects the Star Trek transporter, I’d have to find another solution.

hello Bertha

Enter Big Bertha.

Bertha, my company car, is a 1991 Ford Econoline E-350 extended body van. V-8. Her original burgundy finish is now aged to an orange-pink which coordinates better with the rust.

The interior smells of camping. The headliner is tacked in place by rusty safety pins. There’s a broken CB radio near the AM-FM cassette player. The little notepad in her glove compartment is for keeping track of mileage because the gas gauge works for only one of her two tanks. A Beanie Baby Dalmatian rides on the dashboard, abandoned there by the previous owner who placed it there in 1999 (based on the color of the spots on its sun-exposed back vs. those on its stomach).

I bought her from her original owner, also an artist, who claimed Bertha had only been driven to and from in-state festivals. With less than 50,000 miles on the odometer, it seemed plausible. The A/C worked, the brakes worked, tires were in good shape, and there appeared to be no leaks. Most important, there was puh-lenty of interior space. My husband — who is only slightly more comfortable with risk than me — said the Kelley Blue Book and the asking price were in line, a.k.a. she was a bargain.

We attributed her fatigue to 25 years of parking outdoors, wrote the check, and chose her name as I was driving her home.

About two months later, on September 19, 2015, my friend Tracey hosted a terrific party to help me launch my business. We christened Bertha with cheap beer instead of fine champagne. It suited her. She was built for hard work, and I knew we would have great adventures together.

This story was originally published on May 25, 2016.