The Band-Aid Collector

Of all the pre-apocalypse gigs out there, the local news anchor has to be one of the strangest: Look into the camera, report on war, murder, mass genocide and other horrors of the day, then turn to your fellow I-get-paid-to-smile-in-HDTV talking head and pep-talk about a community function you emceed, the weather, or sports, and move on. It must be unnerving; for the rest of us, the sum effect can often be depressing, like we’re being made to not feel something primal about ourselves.

Of course, television news isn’t reality, and what it and so much other entertainment tells us is that we should be grateful that we have art and music and all these opiates of the masses that keep us alive and kicking in the face of certain doom. In other words — those of Beth Barron’s father as she was growing up — count your blessings. He said that constantly, just as he told Beth to “buck up,” in an attempt to toughen up his daughter, who has been collecting used Band-Aids for 10 years and methodically, quietly, stitching them together and making works of beautiful, moving, lasting art pieces, one of which currently hangs in the downtown Minneapolis Public Library.

“I was like every other little Jewish girl growing up. I thought I was Ann Frank reincarnated,” she says, adding that as a kid, she took on the macro pain of the Holocaust, and later the Vietnam War and 9/11. “I’ve been hurt and I’ve hurt people,” says the twice-divorced Barron, who will admit to being as lost as she’s ever been about the basics of life (“I’m rebuilding my life right now … again”), despite the fact that her obvious claims to fame are as an intensely empathetic artist, loving mother, and anti-anchor.  

“The first Band-Aid I picked up, I was walking around the lake with this guy who was breaking up with me, and my heart was broken,” said the 54-year-old Linden Hills resident. “I picked it up, and then I saw another one, and I picked that up. From there, it took on a life of its own as I started thinking about healing, and things like scars, and whether it’s better to have scars or not.

“I’ve gotten some really good, juicy Band-Aids from people. I’m so in it I don’t know why every artist isn’t collecting Band-Aids. The metaphor is so obvious. It just makes so much sense to me: On one hand, it’s good and you have to protect the wound, and on the other hand I also think you have to let the puss come out. I also think we put Band-Aids on too quickly, just to make our kids stop crying.”

Buck up, kid. Get a thicker skin.  

“I don’t think anyone should toughen up,” she says. “I think we should feel. I mean, I’m still confused, at 54, about what’s comforting. I’m still confused by the questions we had when we were 5 years old: Why do people hit each other? Why are people mean to each other on the playground? Why are people getting blown up in Iraq? I don’t get it. I don’t get so much. Who gets that stuff?

“Part of my initial infatuation with Band- Aids was simply the questions that they provoked, and the concepts of ‘evidence’ and ‘bearing witness’: I was collecting ‘evidence’ and I was ‘bearing witness’ to this invisible pain that most people seem to try to cover up.

“Now that I have been collecting Band-Aids for 10 years and have tried, unsuccessfully, to give up the pain of others, I also realize that as I’ve gotten a bit more world-weary that I am struggling to even find the questions to ask. Like about happiness and hope — are those even expectations we can have? Most people I know have given up on the idea of happiness and are just trying to balance the ambivalence.”

Jim Walsh lives and grew up in East Harriet.