Friday, January 15, 2010

Fine art in thrift stores...

OK, my experience in buying does not come close to the luck of the guy who was standing in front of me in the cashier line at the Salt Lake City Deseret Industries with three watercolor paintings by the late Milford Zornes---for $15 each. A watercolor painting by Milford Zornes in the art market ranges $3,500-10,000. I'm amazed that whoever drops off this type of donation to the Goodwill or other thrift stores has no idea of the intrinsic artistic, historic or monetary value. But it's good for the shopper in-the-know who happens upon them at the right moment, like the guy in line at the Deseret Industries Thrift Store. And there's the fascinating story, made into film, "Who The #$&% Is Jackson Pollock?" about the alleged find of a Jackson Pollock painting at a thrift store for $5.00! So on to my humble finds. For several years I had wanted a bird bath sculpture by steel sculptor Dean Petaja. I never felt I could afford to drop several hundred dollars on a piece of sculpture nor birdbath, for that matter. However, just a couple of years ago, I wandered into in a local home furnishings and accessories consignment shop and spotted one ... with a price tag of $50. It had been spray painted turquoise. Over time that finish is wearing away to reveal the intended rust of the original steel.  It could be stripped for the less patient collector. I nabbed that little item, photographed it extensively, including the signature and took the photos to the local art gallery who used to represent this artist when he lived in SLC. The gallery confirmed the piece was done by this artist.  She gave me an estimated value in today's market---which is five times the price I was concerned about paying a decade ago for one of his pieces.  She remarked, "Congratulations, you are very lucky getting it at that price!"

Above: Photo of my sculptural birdbath (Photo by Sparky).

A few months later, at the same consignment shop, I saw a very appealing small-scale stainless steel mobile. Several times over the next few weeks I checked to see whether the sculpture had sold---at $24.00, it seemed like a steal, but I teased myself with the risk that someone else would buy it instead of me. Then on one visit, I saw the piece had been marked down to $19.99. I decided I really did like it and then was afraid someone else would buy it! So I bought it. When I got the piece home, closer examination revealed a signature etched into the base of the piece. (No, it wasn't Alexander Calder! Although, it had a similar aesthetic.) I googled the name and the artist's website came up, as well as galleries representing his work in California. I photographed the piece and emailed the artist, attaching the photos, requesting his verification that the piece was one he had created. I received a prompt reply from him asking where I found the piece. He confirmed it was his piece, saying he "hadn't made one of those in years!" I didn't ask him the value, and didn't tell him how much I paid. I'm happy with the piece as a sculptural work of art, and consider that the materials alone would have cost more than $19.99! It's a sweet little sculpture that brings me pleasure whenever I look at it and on summer days when the window is open, it moves and spins happily!
Above: Photo of my mobile (Photo by Sparky).
Above: Photo of the mobile sculptor, Aaron P. Van de Kerckhove's studio, from his website.


  1. Toni, This is Jennie, your long lost housemate:)
    I love your finds! The birdbath has a graceful, playful aesthetic that I admire, and Scott adores the mobile! As recent returnees to Utah, can you recommend some good consignment shops? SLC has changed a lot since I lived there last (over 10 years ago...). Hope you are well.

    1. Jennie: So wonderful to hear from you! I hope this will get to you. I Recommend Home Again Consignments - 1019 E 2100 S, Salt Lake City, UT 84106 801-487-4668 Neighborhood: Sugar House

      Emilie-Jayne - 801 S 800 E, Salt Lake City, UT(801) 359-3356

      and if you like Mid-century Modern:
      Now & Again
      501 E 300 S Salt Lake City, UT 84102

      I hope this will get you started....Love hearing from you! xToni
      (801) 364-0664




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