Think piñata when you see Eclectic Eye’s ‘Chucho’

By Published: July 15, 2020 4:00 AM CT

Can the beautiful things we see carry us through the awful things we feel?

The co-owner of a Midtown eyewear boutique, Robbie Johnson Weinberg, certainly hopes so. Because she needs that lifeline right now. And because others do, too.


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Not too long ago, Weinberg accepted the offer of a traveling artist to paint the east wall of her building at Eclectic Eye, 242 Cooper St., with a replacement mural. The result was an eye-catching, multi-hued creature sure to brighten any dark, depressing mood.

The whimsical, catlike critter may even spark a smile. Painted in profile with hues of blue, red, yellow and green, the creature wears a gentle grin and carries a yellow ball.

“It’s a very happy, hopeful little creature,” Weinberg said. “Right now, we’re all looking for something to heal us. I think a lot of the time, art can be that thread that gets us over to the other side.”

Weinberg had to radically rethink her life and business operations after the safer-at-home restrictions came down to curb the spread of COVID-19.

She was forced to furlough several workers, informed vendors she wasn’t buying anymore product and applied for an emergency line of credit. On a positive note, she was soon approved for a CARES Act Paycheck Protection Program loan. Eclectic Eye has reopened, but life still isn’t normal.

Amid the tangle of emotions and adjustments, Weinberg turned to art, of course.

The 50-year-old graduated with a degree in art history from the University of Memphis. She put off any art aspirations to help her husband through optometry school.

After 10 years in restaurant management, she opened the Eclectic Eye with her husband in Midtown, where she grew up. The business offers eye exams and unusual frames.

Opening such a boutique business wasn’t an out-of-field choice.

“After all,” Weinberg said, “eyewear is art for your face.”

For years, she and her husband have worked to showcase local art and artists. They’ve hosted 140 art shows since opening the Eclectic Eye in 2002.

She’d never particularly turned to the art of writing, but she began a public blog in March to express the frightening uncertainty of life as a business owner in a pandemic.

She wrote in her first post on March 18 that she was grief stricken.

She didn’t know then what to expect. On May 6, however, Eclectic Eye began taking customers by appointment while implementing social distancing guidelines.

It was after the reopening that Michael “Birdcap” Roy, a street artist with an international following, contacted Weinberg and asked if a traveling artist friend could paint over a mural he’d done. Weinberg readily accepted the offer.


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Weinberg had no preconceived notions about what should go on the wall that faces the customer parking lot. She allowed artist Michelle “MrBbaby” Ruby to paint from her heart. She painted the creature that she calls Chucho. It’s her signature character.

So, what is Chucho?

Is it a creature we’d find in the zoo? Is it a mystical being that shows up to transform our day?

Or is it the adult version of a stuffed animal for us to hug and squeeze our hurts into, in an imaginary sort of way?

Sort of, but not quite.

Chucho is actually a piñata. Well, he represents a piñata, those decorated, hollow containers that adults suspend from trees for children to whack.

And whack. And then the candy inside falls out.

Chucho is a metaphor.

“I originally created him to represent the battles of life,” Ruby wrote in an email interview. “Life is often hard and challenging. Sometimes it feels like it’s chasing you with a bat, waiting to crack you down. Chucho represents hope …

“No matter the battle you face, how hard it seems in the moment, you can take the power back and take something away from these moments.”

Weinberg said she couldn’t be more pleased.

“I believe the Chucho that Michelle put on the side of the building gives us some hope,” she said. “Some of what we’re seeing right now, we haven’t had a language or safe place to talk about the grief we’ve been experiencing.”

In the language of art, though, there’s universal communication.

This stuff hurts. We get whacked. But then there’s the candy.

Topics

Eclectic Eye Robbie Johnson Weinberg Chucho Michael 'Birdcap' Roy Birdcap Roy Michelle Ruby MrBbaby mural artists midtown memphis

Toni Lepeska

Toni Lepeska is a freelance reporter for The Daily Memphian.


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