by Ben Cater

I have always been fascinated by people who collect. I am not talking about tax collectors or your Thursday morning garbage man. I am referring to the people who do so as a hobby -- folks who spend the greater span of their lives collecting things like comic books, trading cards, records or stamps. Spokanite Craig Bickerton, maybe best known for his position at the knightly round table of Mootsy's poets, has been compiling his own collection outside of what you might consider traditional collecting parameters.

Craig's collection was born about eight years ago when his friend Rick Schmidt was preparing for a trip to Greece. The whimsical idea of Rick having a picture taken of himself holding a sign stating "Craig Bickerton is not here!" would be the catalyst that would spawn a collection that has now reached over 100 photos from all over the world.

Sifting through his thick stack of photos, I couldn't help but be impressed at the number of landmarks he has gathered. The Grand Canyon, the Eiffel Tower, the Liberty Bell, the Fountain of Trevi, Atacara Desert, Radio City and the Alamo are all represented in his collection. Altogether, Bickerton has pictures from eight countries and 18 states.

One of Craig's favorite pictures is of a woman holding the sign and wiping a tear from her eye. Typically, it's a self-deprecating yet humorous image. After all, in one of his own poems, he refers to himself as "that no-good Craig Bickerton."

Bickerton's personal experience with his collection of photographs sheds light on the nature of collecting. According to Craig, what it comes down to is that once a collection has begun, there's no foreseeable end to it. Unlike some kinds of collections where you can finally complete a set, Bickerton's collection is virtually limitless. Especially since he delights in the advent and prospect of "doubles" -- that is, pictures contributed by different people taken in the same foreign place.

His collection of photographs, as I see it, belongs to an elite class. Absent in this group are key characteristics normally associated with collectible items such as practicality or the potential for an item to gain value with age. Here Bickerton joins the ranks of the crazy cat ladies; what appears like nonsensical collecting to the rest of us, after all, may turn out to be selfless dedication.

Collections like these are special because they form on their own accord with very few requirements from the collector. The rules of supply and demand that govern much of the rest of the collectors' world do not apply here. Bickerton manages to add to his collection without the gripping compulsion and desperation that drives a record collector to the record store or George Steinbrenner to add yet another All-Star to the New York Yankees.

This is not to suggest that Craig isn't grateful to everyone who has contributed to his growing collection. He's not pimping anyone for the sake of a picture. Instead, he appreciates that people have taken time out from their vacations to remember him.

If you are planning a trip soon, your submissions to the "Craig Bickerton is not here!" collection are warmly welcomed. You can send them to Mootsy's, Attn: That No-Good Craig Bickerton, 406 W. Sprague, Spokane WA 99201. Important tips for a good picture: Make the lettering on your sign big and bold -- and have some kind of place-identifying landmark in the background.

Publication date: 06/09/05

Bloomsday 2020 @ Spokane

Through Sept. 27
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