Doug Clark: Value remains subjective in the world of old art
You’ve all heard those “Antiques Roadshow” tales of windfall and wonder.
You know, the rusty sword that turns out to be a prized Civil War relic.
Or the dusty armoire that is, in fact, a priceless French heirloom.
Well, brace yourselves.
Sunday afternoon I experienced one of those trash-to-treasure moments of knee-buckling bliss.
It happened at the Spokane County fairgrounds Expo Center when an art expert put a positively shocking value on my old oil painting.
“That’s, that’s good to hear,” I managed to stammer as I mentally calculated my options.
Do I sell it in an auction?
Do I hang it in a prominent spot in my home?
Do I start screaming mindlessly like one of those jugheads on “The Price is Right”?
This was new territory for me. Let’s face it. When it comes to fine art, I’m more of a “Cats Playing Canasta” kind of guy.
And yet here this dignified gentleman was telling me that the old painting signed by some dude named Martin Gottsdoenker is “conservatively” worth …
Let’s hold off on crass figures for a moment. A bit of background first.
On Saturday, my lovely wife, Sherry, and I went to the Custer’s Fall Antique & Collector’s Sale.
It’s sort of a tradition with us. And over the years I’ve carted home many items to spice up our home decor: a light-up cigar ashtray, a Pee-wee Herman doll, a sword cane …
My wife has the patience of a saint.
But while perusing this year’s event, I saw that the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture was offering appraisals similar to that popular PBS television show, “Antiques Roadshow.”
It was for a good cause, too. The $5 admission cost went to preserving and restoring the Campbell House.
That gave me an idea. So Sunday morning I drove to my mom’s house and picked up the painting that had been hanging in a basement storeroom since the 1970s.
Darkened by dust and age, the canvas depicts the sweet scene of a seated mother embracing her child.
My late grandmother Millie once owned it. According to family lore, it came from her third husband, some guy named Taterka.
My father took possession of the painting after the death of his sister, Lorene.
Because of its size – 3 feet by almost 4 feet including a carved wood frame – my mom never had a proper place to put it.
She gave it to me years ago because, well, I’m such a jewel of a son. Plus I like weird junk.
And so it seemed like the perfect time for a foray into the art world.
Trouble is, when I arrived at the MAC appraisal site, the museum’s art authority, Carol Worthington-Borodin, hadn’t yet arrived.
I was told to wait an hour. In the meantime, a MAC volunteer sent me over to a nearby booth to see Michael Grashe, an art restorer with a business in Bellevue.
“Twenty-thousand dollars,” Grashe told me after eyeballing my Gottsdoenker.
Grashe thought the painting’s origins were Eastern Europe, sometime between 1850 and 1875. The frame alone, he added, could be worth $5,000.
“Your object of art,” he said, “is probably the best I’ve seen in the last three days.”
It’s difficult to describe the high I felt as I walked back over to the MAC area for my meeting with Worthington-Borodin.
It is only matched by the knee-buckling crash that came upon hearing the appraiser tell me “the frame might be worth more than the painting.”
It only took about 10 minutes for the bottom to drop out of the Gottsdoenker market.
Speaking of Gottsdoenker, apparently nobody’s ever heard of him. At least no one had in Worthington-Borodin’s computer search.
She placed the painting’s creation at sometime between 1890 and 1910.
Eastern Europe is about the only thing Grashe and Worthington-Borodin agree.
“It couldn’t be one of Hitler’s early works, could it?” I asked.
Bottom line: Worthington-Borodin put the frame’s value somewhere between $500 and $700. The painting, she added, was probably worth $700 to $1,000.
Not 20 grand?
“No way in hell.”
I’m sticking to sword canes and Pee-wee Herman dolls.
Doug Clark is a columnist for The Spokesman- Review. He can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or by e-mail at dougc@ spokesman.com.