eBay one day, thrift store the next!

More and more I am reminded of the power of the Internet and realizing the purpose of this website!

On January 2o, 2012, I received the following message, which came from the contact feature in this blog. It said:

“This is why I am an art collector. Because it’s a journey of discovery. And today, in a thrift store in Maryland, I discovered your aunt. I bought a large (29×39 framed) painting of trees (I guess), black, against an abstract and evocative background with splashes of pale green. Looks like ink and watercolor on heavy paper. This is the kind of painting that gets your attention. And it’s signed “Sister Mary James Ann BVM 1955″ Original framing. Email me, and I will send photos.”

The writer of the message has asked to remain anonymous, but offered pictures. Of course, I jumped all over it. And true to his word, he sent me some photos of his new acquisition yesterday evening.

This painting was signed and dated 1955

A close up photo shows her familiar signature, and the date…the year I was born!

Signature seems to have been done in ink, going up the right side of the painting

The technique reminds me in a way of Japanese Sumi or India ink used in calligraphy. Here is another photo:

Image with frame

The painting of trees is somewhat reminiscent of her Birch Trees in Winter. She certainly used the same color palate, though Birch Trees is an oil:

Birch Trees in Winter, early 50s?, courtesy of Sisters of Charity

What at first glanced look like a stain of yellow in the thrift store find, is actually an intentional green watercolor wash. The owner says that it looks more green in person than what is rendered by the photo. This may have been her way of showing the emergence of spring…a snowy landscape yielding to fresh, early green grass, moss and forest floor underneath.  The trees in the foreground, being conical evergreens, are the dominant vegetation.  The striations of of ink and watercolor suggest a melting, nourishing rain.

In a subsequent email, the owner shared the following:

“The bold black shapes are painted with something very thick, that looks like it was sort of sticky when wet.  The horizontal background elements and the fuzzy areas are definitely watercolor.  The pale yellowish spots are, I’m fairly sure, watercolor.  They look more green than in the pictures.”

I asked him what his opinions were about the style.

“I  am a collector–not an expert!  But I do feel that this painting captures its time perfectly.  To me, it just screams “1955!” Framed without glass, common at the time.  I will likely reframe with glass.”

I am hopeful that the new owner will grant me a personal audience with the piece one day. Not sure if he also lives in Maryland, or was just passing through.  But it would definitely be worth a day trip! Nothing can replace gazing upon a work of art with one’s own eye. Otherwise we’d just have books and no museums!

This is an exciting development for me. Each piece I have discovered since this journey began has its own unique look.  Because she was both an artist and a teacher, I see my aunt’s progression in these revelations –  exploring and experimenting with styles, materials and techniques. She certainly did not pigeonhole herself, though I do see threads of similarity in her work, it is also evident that she pushed herself in many different directions, for her own artistic adventure and also in order to offer her students a fuller and broader artistic experience that she had personally shared.

People find treasures in all sorts of places. For someone, this painting was not meaningful enough to hold onto, and I can imagine many circumstances of how it might have ended up in a thrift store in central Maryland. Most of us who’ve watched Antiques Roadshow know that many treasures are buried in plain sight. Just over half a century ago, this work and others were likely exhibited in a  local gallery. A modest price tag was affixed and someone decided to take it home.  It probably was born in Iowa and changed hands along the way, both appreciated and ignored as it journeyed to to Maryland.  Someone’s junk is often someone else’s treasure. Art is about communication, about emotion, about message…in this case, the painting survived decades and traveled thousands of miles and called to that special individual in order to meet with its new home and destiny!

As I had hoped, curiosity led to a search engine inquiry and a connection through my website. A new owner of my aunt’s art now knows a little bit more about her…and I in turn am able to add another piece of her artistic life to her biography.  I think it’s been a fair exchange. That others did and continue to appreciate her work was never in question, but it is wonderful to have it confirmed and validated by others.

Thank you sir, for your eye, for your curiosity and most of all, thank you for sharing this with me…with everyone!

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A Justin Bieber toothbrush Groupon ad leads to a new art discovery

The amazing twists and turns of social networking, email, Twitter and eBay

After seeing creative Groupon commercials at the 2011 Superbowl, I decided to take a look at the new Internet upstart and eventually signed up to receive notices of interesting local deals.  Since then, my email inbox has received a wide variety of enticing Groupon offers to save on services and products.

Last week, one offer in particular tickled my funny bone. It was for a Justin Bieber singing toothbrush. In my day, it might have been a Bobby Sherman toothbrush. His pearly whites took center stage on many a Tiger Beat magazine cover, but alas, technology was decades away from Bobby, Donny Osmond and other dentally endowded heartthrobs of the 1960s. They had to settle for lunchboxes.

But I digress in my story. I found the Bieber bristles funny enough to post on Twitter. I was not the only one who did so.  A fellow local Twitter friend @lifeontheedges thought it was funny too. Our Bieber bond prompted her to check out my profile and visit this site which shows up as my  featured link.  She read this blog and found it interesting. (smile).

Enough so that we started a mini-conversation and she decided to do an eBay alert check on my behalf. She got a hit for me!

And there I saw a new painting, signed by S.M.James Ann, and titled “An Amazing and beautiful abstract painting on wedges by Seraphia Angela Walsh.” It was listed at an out of reach price for my modest budget, but it was wonderful to see. The seller had obviously researched the signature and found this blog, the only online source that links my aunt’s birth name to her BVM identity.

Signature as shown on eBay by Estate Decor

The seller  later changed the auction title to match the signature. The listing was by Estate-Decor, who maintain an eBay seller store on art and antiques. They are based in Rego Park, NY.

Emails went back and forth, and to make a long and interesting story very short, we agreed on a  fair price. Estate-Decor understood the family connection and its meaning to me. I can’t thank them enough for their fair dealings, and desire to place a painting where it will be loved, treasured and handed down to family. Thank you!

Thanks also to my Twitter friend for taking the time to care, for being curious. How a simple spark of “I wonder…” started a process! By acting on an impulse and on my behalf, another piece of my aunt’s visual history has been put in place and a beautiful painting is on its way to me. My pocketbook is a little lighter, but my research and my family are so much richer for it.

Simple things can and do connect us. The Internet can be an anonymous, cold and calculating platform in which to transact and scam. But my experience with this project has been to meet people who care. From Craigslist to Clarke, BVMs to Bieber, students and strangers, through WordPress, Facebook,Twitter, eBay and email; kind-hearted people have emerged, shared and taken initiative.   I knew about eBay alerts. I believe someone else told me about them, but I never followed through on the idea.  My mind, creatively scatterbrained as can be at times, flits, skips and jumps on many ideas, curiosities, shiny things, and other daily ephemera. It doesn’t always land where it should. This time around, Lifeontheedges had my back. Thank you!  Thank you all!

Here is a screenshot from the eBay posting.  It is on its way to my home. I will post more pictures once it’s on the wall. Ladies and gentlemen, and dear, dear friends, may I present “Wedges”…

Painted in Iowa, found for sale in NY, suggested date of 1958, it's on its way to Delaware!

High school discovery from 1929!

Thanks to Loyola Library Digital Collection (thanks Wikipedia for pointing me there) I was able to confirm that my aunt did indeed graduate from Immaculata High School in Chicago nine years before my mother did. Seraphia Walsh was in the class of 1930, and is mentioned in many articles and school documents. Her interest in art was well established.

Using advanced search, I was able to find this very early treasure, drawn for a school program when she was 15 and a half years old.  Her calligraphy was always outstanding. This program shows her interest in art and calligraphy. Even at 15, she thought to create key letters as musical notes. I was thrilled beyond belief to find a piece from her youth. Her name is credited at the bottom, highlighted as part of my search result!

A high school program drawn by my aunt in her junior year, at  age 15. Scan source: Loyola Library Digital Collection