Monday, January 27, 2020

The curious case of the broken Bisque

As most of you know, starting a few years ago, and kindled by a happy accident that I had while creating a piece for a fundraiser for the Smith Center for Healing, I discovered the joy of creating original artwork by recycling broken Bisque, which otherwise be discarded and would fill more landfills somewhere.

Let me digress: I was once told that one of Rome's seven hills is nothing but broken pottery that accumulated over the milennia.

Back to the curious case at hand.  In order to do this, I contacted several of the local DMV area "do it yourself" pottery places - I actually wrote most of them a snail mail letter, asking them to save me their broken Bisque.

Nearly all ignored my letter, except for Color Me Mine in Rockville, which told me that it would take them a few months to accumulate enough broken Bisque that would make it worth for me to take the trip. A couple of weeks later they called me and I came back with two boxes full of broken Bisque.

I used those pieces to create the work which then I exhibited in 2017 at my solo show at Artists and Makers Studio in Rockville and which got this nice review in The Washington Post.  This is what the wall of those pieces looked like:

I was on a roll! Not only creating innovative new artwork which was really catching on well with the public ar art fairs in New York, Houston and Miami, but it was essentially recycling and re-purposing a substrate which otherwise would end up in our landfills.

. Lennox Campello's Bisque wall at Pulse Art Fair Miami Beach 2019
Campello Bisque wall at Pulse Art Fair Miami Beach 2019
A good all around story... right?

When I was offered another solo show last year at the Stone Tower Gallery in Glen Echo, I contacted all the same local places and even spread out a little further out in MD and VA.  This time I didn't get a single response, so I decided to drop by Color Me Mine in Rockville and All Fired Up in Bethesda, and personally ask for them to save for me their broken Bisque.

Bethesda said they'd have to ask their manager, who wasn't there at the time... since I hang around that area a lot, I came by a few days later and did speak with the manager, who agreed to collect the broken Bisque. I then returned in a few weeks, only to be told by the attendant that she had no idea what I was talking about, and that I needed to talk to the manager... again. I did so a few days later, and was once again reassured that they'd save the broken Bisque for me. A couple of weeks later I stopped by and, as you may be already guessing,  I was once again told by the new attendant that she had no idea what I was talking about, and that I needed to talk to the manager. This cycle, because I'm around that area often, continues to repeat months and months later. It has become almost a like a never ending game for me.

I even received an email from their manager which said: "Hello thank you for contacting us here at all fired up. We don't have any extra bisque ceramic shards that are scheduled to be thrown away. If we do come across any I will keep you in mind."

But zero (so far) there has been broken Bisque ever collected from All Fired Up.  As far as I know, all their broken stuff ends up in their dumpster, and I'm not into dumpster diving where there are so many restaurants that share the dumpsters.

Rockville was a different story. When I stopped by, their manager informed me that she needed to get permission from "corporate" before she gave me the broken Bisque.  When I informed her that they had given me broken Bisque before, she informed me that the shop was under new owners. I smiled and told her that I'd be back.

A few weeks later I was in the area and dropped in. "Corporate said no," informed me the store manager. I was surprised, and asked her if she knew the reason. She passed on that "corporate was concerned that if the store gave me broken Bisque and I cut myself with the broken Bisque, that I would sue them."

I was a little stunned, and just looked at her for a while in silence. As she was noticeably becoming uncomfortable, I thanked her and left.

I then researched who "corporate" was, and found them, and wrote then a letter.

I didn't hear back from them... so I wrote them another letter. After being ignored twice, I sighed in exasperation and looked online placed an order from Chesapeake Ceramics in Baltimore. When their carefully box arrived full of beautiful Bisque, I broke all of them and created new work -  you can see it here.

Then it dawned on me that they must have tons of broken Bisque, and that dumpster diving in their warehouse might yield a treasure. And thus, after I came back from Miami in December, I wrote them a letter.

To my delight, a nice lady named Gina called me right back in a few days. This angel from the Baltimore regions told me that they'd be delighted to save broken Bisque for me, and that they'd be glad to be part of re-purposing the broken material for an art project. She followed it all up with an email.

Superb customer service from someone who is really good at her job.

A few weeks later Gina called me - she had saved a couple of boxes for me, and today, when I drove up to their warehouse, I finally met this very nice lady, and gave her a hug.  When I backed up to their loading dock, the nice gent there even helped me to load up, not one, but about half a dozen boxes full of beautiful broken Bisque!

Thank you Chesapeake Ceramics! You untangled what seems like a winning proposition for everyone and which for some reason became the curious case of the broken Bisque.