Blogger barters for art and the stories behind the pieces

Jolayne Houtz

MCT-Over the course of a year, a Canadian blogger swapped his way from one red paper clip to a two-story farmhouse in Saskatchewan. Over the course of 18 months, a Seattle blogger has bartered her way from a “moderately crappy” laptop to a lamp made of rhinestones and Popsicle sticks that reportedly whispers in the night _ and a collection of funny stories about people and their stuff. And that’s enough for Rosalie Gale. Because who’d want to move to Saskatchewan, anyway? Gale, a Seattle artist and stand-up comic, launched the quirky trading experiment she calls bARTer Sauce last year with a simple premise: 1. Swap art and assorted funky objects with others on Craigslist. 2. Collect funny stories from trading partners about said funky objects. 3. Blog about the whole thing on her Web site, “BARTer Sauce is not about trading up,” said Gale, who calls the red paper clip guy “my nemesis.” “I like the stories. I’m much more apt to trade for a nothing item with a great story attached to it,” said Gale, whose day job involves working as part of a Web development team for a public-affairs firm. ODD IS GOODSince beginning her trading odyssey, Gale’s tiny downtown apartment has hosted a rotating collection of oddball objects, including a homemade “crow cannon” for shooing away noisy birds, an 1867 tombstone found in an alley and a painting of a woman with eyes for nipples that Gale calls: “Hey, My Eyes Are Up Here! Oh, Wait … ” “Odd pleases me,” said Gale, 32, who punctuates her sentences with a wry laugh. She started the project to “examine the transitory nature of our ownership of material possessions,” she writes on her Web site. Plus she gets to write funny tales about her trades, meet new people, connect with old friends, declutter her apartment and refresh her art collection. “This way, these things can live at my house for a while,” she said. “And then they can go away.” TRADING PIECESGale has shaken hands on about 40 trades in the past 18 months, starting with her old laptop. She posted it on Craigslist with a warts-and-all description of its many faults and was flooded with offers. One guy wanted to trade for his boat. She chose to trade with a Lynnwood, Wash., teen for two pairs of red boxing gloves and a digital camera to kick off the experiment. The pinnacle was a paraglider in a backpack that may have been worth a couple thousand dollars, Gale said. At some point, it had been sullied by cat urine. The trader’s wife seemed glad to get rid of it. “Things went downhill from there. Within three trades, I ended up with The First Microwave Ever Made,” Gale said. “That’s when the project died the first time. No one would even pity-trade me.” To resuscitate the bartering, Gale turned the clunky microwave into a diorama called “The Love Tester,” with four light-up scenes inside dealing with infidelity, Internet dating, impotence and true love. That caught the eye of West Seattle painter Kelly Lyles, who traded for 10 of her prints. Lyles has made other trades since then, ending up with a giant inflatable cell phone she keeps in the backyard among other things. “It’s a social experiment. But mostly it’s just pure entertainment value,” Lyles said. “I enjoy just the randomness of it, the silliness of it.” HOW BAD COULD IT GET?BARTer Sauce was supposed to end sometime this summer with a culminating art show displaying all the bartered items. But now Gale is in no hurry to end it. “I’ve discovered that I hate event planning. I think I keep going because I don’t want to plan the event,” she said. An assortment of oddities awaiting the right trade offer is stashed in her fourth-floor view apartment a block from Seattle’s Pike Place Market. “This is the worst,” she said, displaying a painting of two people (clowns, perhaps?) on the inside glass of an old window. Someone found it hidden inside a wall during a remodel. “No, this is the worst,” Gale said, changing her mind. She calls it “The Heart of the Room” _ a cow windchime sporting a shell, an old Christmas ornament, a grappling hook and assorted wires and chains. In the closet, she keeps the Popsicle lamp and several toy moose heads she’s planning to mount. Leaning against the wall is a painting of a reclining cat, a trade from Boston’s Museum of Bad Art. I’LL PASS ON THE TAILDoes it mean something if your trading experiment is accepting rejects from a collection of bad art? Gale thinks not. “BARTer Sauce has lower standards,” she said. “When I started out, I wanted to trade for actual art. I guess it was supposed to be this way.” And so Gale refuses no reasonable offers as long as there’s a good story attached. “The weirder, the better,” she said. But there is a line between weird and macabre that bARTer Sauce will not cross. Gale rejected a trade with a woman who wanted to swap for the tip of her cat’s tail, lamentably severed in a door-hinge accident and, even more lamentably, preserved in a plastic baggie. Some things are just too weird. BARTer Sauce has standards, after all. Even if they are low.

(c) 2007, The Seattle Times. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.