Sparked by Words

Once a Thief


Amazing how many thieves there are, in all enterprises. So many politicians in fields so far from politics. So much dishonesty though the claim for integrity tops a company’s mission statement. We pride ourselves on the highest standards of ethical behavior in the industry. Sure you do. Don’t sit – your pants are burning.

I used to design artwork that became fabric bolts that were made into active wear, a lengthy process involving many companies and several countries. Think bathing suits, bikinis, Hawaiian-style shirts, all directed toward teenagers and college students. Also the usual hangers-on who acted cool and hip, ignoring their aging thighs and bellies.

As an artist, the prima ballerina position in the company, I was supposed to get back any of my original work that was produced by a manufacturer. There was no monetary gain, just a phantom badge of honor for having created the artwork that had been purchased for production. An artist’s coup, the feather in our cap. Look, that kid over there is wearing my art on his tush! You’re familiar with the companies but I can’t name them here.

Over the years, none of my original art was ever returned to me, and I questioned Boss Lady, the art department lead. She insisted my work hadn’t been used by the manufacturers. My artwork must not have been returned to our company – lost in the mail, eaten by mermaids, something like that. It wasn’t true but I had no proof. You can always tell when someone is lying. She couldn’t look me in the eye, she fidgeted with desk doodads, her voice dropped to her lowest register so none of the other artists in the studio could hear.

One day I sorted older fabric samples and there I found my art printed on cotton, proof of purchase and manufacture – except Boss Lady had manipulated my original work. She’d changed just enough that she could claim it wasn’t mine – but hers. Where I’d painted turtles, she’d changed them to fish. Where I’d used one color way, an orange-purple-lime combo, she’d switched to another – orange-purple-turquoise. She’d assigned me the wrong information to intentionally force me to paint something incorrectly, then made the “corrections” herself, and called the “new” designs her own.

I’d been hired by a previous department head and had no formal art training. (I had a degree in English but had done free lance art commissions.) Boss Lady constantly flouted her art degree. She hated that I had a gift for art that hadn’t been university trained.

Boss Lady was talented and accomplished. Once she became the department head she had little reason to fire me as my work was excellent, but she fabricated a work place that was palpably unwelcome and emotionally toxic. But why would she do this? Basic jealousy. Arrogant disdain. Pure nastiness. She probably considered it eminent domain.

It’s always about power in the end. No matter how altruistic one may appear before their whiskers grow in, no matter how much talent and passion may have directed first forays into a field, eventually the corporate ladder and the wallet’s bottom line take over. Laying claim over others’ successes, denying culpability for all failures becomes modus operandi for managers. They call it delegating authority, a catchphrase for dishonesty.

I resigned the fabric converter company after three years of their soul scorching routine and launched the career that defined me. That fulfilled me. I taught art through a city recreation program, then in several schools, developing curricula for kindergarten through twelfth grades.

And I always remembered, throughout those decades of teaching kids, of watching them flourish and delight in their creations, that their mastery was not mine to claim. They trusted me to teach, not to take credit for their work.

No one trusts a thief.


Photo of Hawaiian fabric courtesy Pixabay


Comments on: "Once a Thief" (38)

  1. ah, humans: we may be more intelligent than dolphins and monkeys (although the jury’s still out), but look what we do with it, life after life, civilisation after civilisation … at least we still have our integrity – if not justice

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m not so sure about my integrity anymore, though I used to think I was unimpeachable. Still a lot of maturing to do at my end of civilization. Now I’m going to hang out with the monkeys, only because I don’t swim well enough to be with the dolphins. As for justice – I wish I was certain about how to create that for everyone. Thank you for your astute comments.


  2. When I first started my own business, I had time — and need — to do a bit of consulting work on the side. I quickly learned consultants are often hired to fire. That is, you are quietly told to recommend that Jones’ job be eliminated, etc. I also learned that most often, Jones deserves it! He or she is more or less just like your toxic boss, but someone’s pet, and can’t be let go any other way without spitting the execs into warring camps.

    I loved your post. Sad as it was you had to go through that nonsense, it was fascinating to read about it. Thank you so much for sharing that, Sharon!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. AAARRGGHHH! I have so many similar stories to recount… Human nature is basically flawed, as well as being capable of rising to supreme heights. But it’s no use looking back, victory is when you manage to move on. Xxxx

    Liked by 2 people

    • You’re right, Marina, I did move on. I feel very grateful to have become an art educator, something I loved every day of my career. I would never have been able to do that without the job at the fabric convertor company.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. The greasy pole. They eventually slip down.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I know that story well, Sharon.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Jenna Barwin said:

    Well said, Sharon! I’m sorry you went through that at the fabric place. And your students were lucky to have you!!

    I recently read a post by an author, who noted that you could have all the copyright/trademark laws on your side, but if don’t have the money to enforce them, you really don’t have anything at all.

    Liked by 2 people

    • When you work for a company like the one I wrote about, you own nothing. That’s made clear before your first minute of work. Whatever I created was owned by the company, and I had no rights to any of it. In fact, when I left, I wasn’t allowed to work for another converter business for a year or so (I used to remember the exact amount of time.) But it felt terrible that the woman treated me so unfairly – that hurt. Thanks for understanding, Jenna.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Glad you persevered and that things eventually worked out well for you! 🙂 💜 Jackie@KWH

    Liked by 1 person

  8. What’s the saying? Imitation is best form of flattery? Harharhar. We artists of any medium always have this to deal with — all the same we must continue to produce & share. I’ve known artists so frightened of getting ripped off that everything they make goes into a drawer…

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s sad to know, Daal. Most of the artists I know who don’t attempt to sell their work, believe they don’t have genuine talent, though some have a great deal. In the case of this company, none of the artists owned any of their work. It was all owned by the company – that was in our contract. But I didn’t understand the political machinations of business, how directors hold back information to make those under them “fail” so they have to swoop in and “correct” all the errors the stupid workers make. I see it in every business now, no matter what kind of service is offered. Anyway, it was a learning experience. At least I was smart enough to know when to leave.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. So sad to read about a boss with zero integrity, Shari! I’ve been in that environment and happily retired away from all that drama. I wish you had taken a photo of your art/graphics pieces for us to see!


    • It’s artwork meant for reproduction purposes and doesn’t look like much, certainly not like a painting. Imagine one tiny design that gets repeated all over a length of fabric – and I managed to save scraps of my work in a small sketchbook.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I’ve known my share of thieves and liars too, Shari. Although it’s been hard to let stuff like that go, I find my life more serene because I did let it all go.


  11. I know which one of you is more likely to sleep with a clear conscience!


  12. An educational post, Sharon. I never imagined such things went in the fabric industry. Glad you moved on from that.
    On a parallel topic, I often wonder about our poetry and photos that we post. I’ve come across a poem that pretty much paraphrases one of mine (years ago). No way to prove such plagiarism so just shook my head. It’s the chance we take posting things here. Also it’d be so easy to have one’s photos used by others and we might never know. I found a picture of myself used by another on an obscure social media site…. But that’s a whole ‘nother subject.
    Anyway, glad you ended up doing something you enjoy so much!
    Hope things are going well for you.

    (Sorry I’m so far behind reading here! Trying to catch up with everyone – but slowly.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sadly, I’ve read about so much theft. My cousin is an exceptional photographer who wins awards. She used to post some of her photos on her FaceBook page and discovered that a close “friend” was taking them as her own and selling them!
      I keep all my poetry and articles in documents on my computer. Were it ever necessary, my history can be traced back to its inception. But even slight alteration is hard to prove – another thing I learned in the fabric converter business. I’m referring to artwork being stolen from outside our studio, i. e. , the work of other artists being stolen by someone in our company, and vice versa. (Funny how well that word “vice” suits here.)

      I’m sorry the goniff thinks your work is out there for the taking. Let’s hope it doesn’t get published in a book and sold as theirs. The weakness of public access.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. I’m so sorry you had to go through this, Shari! What an awful Boss Lady! Sadly there are too many of those all around the world, and I myself know a few of them. 😦 A friend of mine worked for a magazine once and all her paintings belonged to it as well, she was devastated to learn that she had no rights to use them afterwards whatsoever.
    I’ve been contacted a couple of times by some clothes company or other to lend them my designs and drawings for printing on their textiles. I was tempted at first, then did a bit of research and after learning that they would always belong to said companies I politely declined the offers. Of course, I would love to see people wearing them, but maybe I should just print some fabrics myself one day – that way, I would keep the rights on my designs.

    P.S. Sorry for being behind with catching up with you here!


    • Unfortunately, too many people don’t understand the contracts they sign when they work for a company. I actually knew, but what angered me was that BL intentionally gave me incorrect info so what I created was done wrong. Then she claimed that her corrections entitled her to claim credit for what I’d actually created. There was no money involved but it was a matter of pride. And of course, the actual company managers thought I was creating useless crap. Should I mention that this was not a union business?

      Though it would be nice to have your artwork on textiles, you’re right to be cautious. In some cases, some companies demand that all work created by their employees, even work done at home on their own time with their own materials, is owned by the company. Gotta read those contracts.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Ugh it sucks, but there really are thieves in every industry. This kind of thing makes me so seething mad though. I’ve not had this happen to me on this scale, but one of my peers copied my GCSE artwork and I got marked down for not being original… as did she. Still annoys me to this day to be honest :/ Plagiarism is one of those things that really winds me up and people often don’t get what it feels like to have their work ripped off, but even from my small experience, I have a lot of sympathy for this.


    • Did I read this correctly? The thief got credit for originality and you lost points because your artwork wasn’t?! Did you even get a chance to defend yourself? A rotted fish on the head of the thief and the instructor.


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