Artist’s lost work turns up in thrift shop

Ontario thrift-store find appraised at $16,000

Apr 3, 2017 by and

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Thrift store manager Karla Richards thought one of her volunteers was joking when he brought her a painting that had been donated, saying it could be worth a lot.

But Louis Silcox insisted it was an original by Maud Lewis, a Canadian folk artist who lived in poverty but gained fame after her death in 1970.

Silcox was right. The painting, left at the New Hamburg (Ont.) Thrift Centre, could bring in around $16,000 or more for Mennonite Central Committee.

Louis Silcox and Karla Richards display the Maud Lewis painting discovered at the New Hamburg (Ont.) Thrift Centre. — Ken Ogasawara/MCC

Louis Silcox and Karla Richards display the Maud Lewis painting discovered at the New Hamburg (Ont.) Thrift Centre. — Ken Ogasawara/MCC

Richards said Silcox found the painting while sorting through donations last summer. Silcox’s wife had done research and writing on Lewis, so he recognized the artwork.

“When he came across it, he said, ‘This might be worth a lot of money,’ ” Richards said. “Louis is a bit of a joker, so at first I thought he was kidding with me.”

But Silcox insisted on further investigation. The painting was authenticated as Lewis’ work, “Portrait of Eddie Barnes and Ed Murphy, Lobster Fishermen, Bay View, N.S.” It was appraised at $16,000.

“It was serendipitous to have a volunteer with some knowledge of the piece,” she said.

Fighting poverty

Lewis lived with rheumatoid arthritis in a tiny home without indoor plumbing or electricity in the rural community of Marshalltown in the Maritime province of Nova Scotia. She had no formal art training but painted simple scenes on any material she could find, including the walls of her house. “Lobster Fishermen” was painted on beaver board, which was used as ceiling tile, according to Sheryl Bruggeling, MCC Ontario communication and events coordinator.

"Portrait of Eddie Barnes and Ed Murphy, Lobster Fishermen, Bay View, N.S." by Maud Lewis — Ken Ogasawara/MCC

“Portrait of Eddie Barnes and Ed Murphy, Lobster Fishermen, Bay View, N.S.” by Maud Lewis — Ken Ogasawara/MCC

“She had grown up and lived in poverty,” Bruggeling said. “Now her work is going to help so many people we deal with who live in poverty.”

During her lifetime, Lewis sold some of her paintings for as little as $2 or $3, but after her death collectors have paid up to $22,000 for them, and there has been a recent resurgence of interest in her art. Bruggeling learned from The Homer Watson House & Gallery in Kitchener, Ont., that the prices for her work are going up.

Screening of ‘Maudie’

Additionally, the Waterloo movie theater Princess Cinemas had the rights to Maudie, a film about Lewis that won the Super Channel People’s Choice Award at the 2016 Vancouver International Film Festival.

“We couldn’t have planned it much better,” Bruggeling said. “That was pure luck.”

MCC Ontario has partnered with Princess Cinemas for a fundraising event April 20 featuring an advance screening of Maudie, followed by a reception at the Delta Hotel Waterloo, where the painting will be on display. Bidding will open at the event and continue online until May 19, with all proceeds donated to MCC and shared between its local and international programs.

Bids can be made at mcccanada.ca/forms/maud-lewis-auction.

Bruggeling said several art galleries and collectors have expressed interest in acquiring the painting.

“We’ve been focusing on MCC’s development and anti­poverty work, in part because the painter herself was a woman in poverty,” said Rick Cober Bauman, MCC Ontario executive director. “We’re making that connection between someone living a life of poverty — literally a starving artist — and making a contribution to MCC’s anti­poverty work.”


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