Don’t let the title fool you, I’m not a Jane Austen fan, nor have I read any of her works. With that said, all of you who got the reference should go and hug your mother, father, and/or teacher for introducing you to literature.
I can wait.
Glad to have you back. Well, most of you at any rate. A select few are probably still trying to explain to your retired middle school English teacher why you showed up on their property for an embrace at this hour. We’ll move on, they can catch up later.
A love of literature may not the main thrust of this article, but it’s a great reference point to begin with. We collectors (and future collectors) of Magic the Gathering Artwork usually get our inspiration and passion from past memories and fantasy tropes that stirred our imagination as young adults. Books and the written medium are best suited to this end, because your mind is unaided in any way, and creates a picture of the story, character, or world that is unique to your perspective.
On a personal level, the fantasy figures that interest me most are Scarecrows. The idea of creatures cobbled together from found items, and then animated by rustic or accidental magic greatly appeals to me because it strikes a balance outside the common bounds of “good” or “evil” and lands more playfully along the lines of “mischief” and “superstition.”
I began playing Magic during the original Ravnica Block, but didn’t really become passionate about the game until Lorwyn/Shadowmoor. The artwork and setting of an idyllic countryside manipulated by mischievous forces really struck a chord with me, and Shadowmoor was one of the first sets I purchased an entire box of, purely because I loved the flavor. When I opened “Painter’s Servant,” I held it in my hand for the longest time.
I think every one of us has experienced that moment upon first seeing a particular piece of artwork. That moment when an artist has managed to so perfectly capture the image you’ve held in your “mind’s eye.” Mike Dringenberg certainly did that for me. After opening Painter’s Servant for the first time, I always managed to keep at least one copy in my binder, no matter what. It instantly became my favorite piece of Magic art and a defining reason for my appreciation of the game.
Fast forward a few years to September of 2010. I was still primarily a casual player, but was determined to improve my skill and start working towards a competitive level. Grand Prix Portland was nearby, and I saw this as a good opportunity to compete and gauge my progress in limited. Unfortunately, because I was so focused on the main event and had to leave earlier than I’d expected to pick up a friend, I completely missed the fact that Mike Dringenberg was there signing cards a few feet from where I had been standing. As it happened, Mike still had the original art for Painter’s Servant at that event but by the time I actually began looking to buy it a couple of years later, the piece was long gone.
This scenario introduces the first major lesson I’ve learned about collecting Magic art: “time” or “timing” accounts for about 90% of your ability to find and secure a particular piece. In this case, timing was not on my side. I was not yet actively looking to purchase originals and, to be honest, hadn’t even made the connection that they were available to buy in the first place. Had I known how important these works would become to me in the near future, I would have instantly walked away with my holy grail that day. Right place, wrong time…
Timing works both ways. I have heard stories of other collectors happening to randomly contact an artist at just the right moment to get a response about a sought after piece, while countless other enthusiasts had been attempting to make the same connection for years without success. As is the case with many pursuits, luck and opportunity are fickle mistresses. Timing is something that we rarely have control of, and rather than bemoan our hindsight, it’s more fitting to re-direct our attention to aspects we can control.
This brings me to the second lesson I’ve learned, and this one is more significant by a large margin. Temperance, or patience, is an easy thing to suggest but can be very difficult to actually practice. I don’t I have ever wanted any other material item as badly as Painter’s Servant, so when I finally found and contacted the current owner, my internal state was anything but calm or patient.
With Painter’s Servant finally located, the easy part of my quest was over, but since the artwork was very special to the current owner as well, he wasn’t interested in selling and would only consider parting with it for a piece he loved more. The list of paintings that fit the bill was a daunting one that included several universal classics, yet I went to work immediately to see what I could find. For the next five months, nearly every free moment was spent doing detective work to try to find one of these originals to trade. In the process I gained a lot of skills and made a lot of great friendships, but my patience was also tested countless times.
While the main objective is to obtain art, one of the best parts of art collecting is the relationships that you form along the way. Because this hobby is dedicated and passionate by nature, you will encounter a wide variety of great personalities who share your interest. When negotiating for a piece, I believe it is most important to remember to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Each enthusiast I’ve met has a different approach to both art valuation and communication, and if you’re not prepared for that, you will likely burn a bridge or have to give up the search altogether.
Time and again, I would string lead after lead together and finally locate a piece only to be completely ignored by the final human link in the chain. When I did manage to speak with an owner, I was either left hanging mid-communication, or the potential sale amount was so staggering it felt like a rejection anyways. After several months and countless hours of working behind the scenes, I had a wealth of new information that pinpointed the location of some very iconic pieces like Survival of the Fittest and Drop of Honey, but I was still unable to actually purchase or trade for a painting that would exchange for my grail. The owner of Painter’s Servant was very gracious in keeping in touch with me, but my leads kept growing cold, and I was fast running out of options.
At this point, I was very discouraged. I tried everything I could to get in touch with the owners of the last few unaccounted for pieces, but knew I would just make things worse if I annoyed them by communicating too frequently. Taking stock of the situation, I came to two conclusions: First, the realization that Painter’s Servant meant too much to me to ever give up on completely so I would continue doing everything in my power to make something happen, including selling other collectibles that meant a lot to me; and Second being the fact that I couldn’t continue investing so much time rehashing the same leads and beating my head against the wall. I re-evaluated the strategies that were within my ability to pursue and change, and discarded the rest.
I tend to be a very focused and determined person when faced with a challenge, so it was difficult to scale back, especially when so much work had already been put in. That said, it was the right decision and put my mind at peace for the next month. Additionally, I felt very fortunate to have met several excellent new friends and acquaintances who provided lots of support along the way. Although this article is about my search for a painting, I would have gotten nowhere if not for all the additional assistance, knowledge, and generosity that was offered to me by various other collectors.
Luckily, my story does have an exciting end, although it came as a great surprise. The owner of Painter’s Servant messaged me saying he had thought things over and was considering my last offer to simply buy Painter’s Servant outright. I was astonished and could barely contain my excitement. A few incredibly long weeks passed, and there I was at the post office with signature slip in hand and a hallelujah chorus in my ribcage (I like to imagine it was sung with a robust Italian accent, but knowing me it was probably more like the bastard child of Farsi and Sacha Baron Cohen).
The great unveiling almost ended in tragedy, because two sections of the shipping container had been completely crushed, ironically in the two areas most covered by “Fragile” stamps. Fortunately the packer had the foresight to leave lots of empty space, and Painter’s Servant arrived untouched.
I am eternally thankful to the owner, and am not naive enough to believe that it would have happened entirely without the immense effort on my part, and the unending support from others.
I see the last few of you are starting to show up, some unfortunately with restraining orders in hand, so it’s time for me to wrap things up. Thanks to everyone who listened in, and especially to those of you who had an active role in the story. My grail search is over, but I would love the privilege of being part of yours. Don’t balk at the difficult stretches, they all play a part in making the end that much sweeter.