Today I wanted to tell you a little story about making jewelry and setting up at art shows that made me feel really good about what I do…
It all started a few years ago at the 4th Avenue Street Fair in Tucson, Arizona. My booth was all set up and ready for customers when a young man in his early twenties arrived. He asked several questions about my work and expressed his interest in the antique pieces.
I appreciated his enthusiasm, but couldn’t help but notice how he was dressed. His clothes were filthy, his hair matted, and he smelled terrible. I was pretty sure he was homeless; and as long as he was in the booth, no one else was going to enter.
Eventually he stepped back into the street and disappeared in the crowd. Within a few minutes, the air in my booth cleared, customers came back inside, and I didn’t think about the young man.
A pottery shard
A few hours later, he returned, “Hey, man. Sometimes when I’m walking around, I find things.” He dug his hand into his pocket, “Today I found this. I thought maybe you could use it.”
He handed me a little, blue piece of pottery. I examined it and said, “It’s probably from a 1930s flower pot.”
“Man, maybe you could turn it into a piece of jewelry or something,” he said. “I just love what you do. You can turn this piece of garbage into something really nice.”
I was touched that he had taken the time to come back to my booth and give me the piece even though there was no benefit to him. “I think I could do something with it. Thank you. Thank you very much,” I said. He smiled and walked away, and I never saw him again.
Carrying the piece around the country
I put the little shard in my cash box and carried it with me for over a year. At each show, I’d pull it out and think about this young, homeless, smelly guy. Somehow, there was something special about this fragment of pottery.
Eventually the shard made its way to the table in my studio. I continued to hold it up, look at it, and after another year, I finally turned it into a piece of jewelry. Once I polished it and put it on a card, I carried the piece with me from show to show, but never put it on display. I couldn’t put a price tag on it. This piece wasn’t like the others.
Finally, I put two stickers on it. The first read “$75,” and the second read, “Ask Liam the story.”
The right person, the right piece, the right time
At Milwaukee Irish Fest, someone picked up the piece and asked about it. The woman listened to every detail of the story. When I finished, I told her that when the piece sells, I will donate the money to the charity of the customer’s choice.
“This is the one,” said the Irish Fest patron. Her name was Jean Kinney; and as we talked, she told me about a charity in Minneapolis she supported called Prism. The program helps families in need and it sounded like just the type of place where the money should go.
Jean surprised me. When we discussed the donation, she said, “I’ll match your gift.” Well, she did more than that. Between the two of us, the donations came to $200… and all because a young, homeless man liked my work. I like to think I was given a chance to pay it forward.