The speaker at last Tuesday’s NTISA meeting was Patricia Meadows. Patricia has been involved in the art world around Texas for many years. She was curator of the Hall Art Collection and the Texas Sculpture Garden that was created around Hall Properties in Frisco, TX. She was founder of the Dallas Visual Art Center, a working space for artists and co-founder of EASL,a charitable organization for emergency financial support of artists. She has juried countless art shows across the state and given her time and expertise to serve on the Board of Directors of several public art committees. The room was packed in anticipation of a great talk!
Patricia gave an insightful talk entitled “Whose Art Anyway?” in which she pointed out that the first and foremost (and sometimes the trickiest) job of an appraiser is to correctly identify authorship of a piece of art. Of course this would be easy if every piece of art bore a clear and legible signature. But we all know that this is not the case. Sometimes the piece is signed but completely illegible. Sometimes the signature is quite clear but research points to no known artist with that name. So, well-trained art appraisers have always had to rely on years of art historical study, great recall and a well-honed sense of connoisseurship developed by gallery and museum hopping over a period of decades to recognize various artists’ work by their style.
That’s great for the major names and movements of art through the years. But what about instances where the styles blur together? Patricia led her talk with the Texas quintessential…the bluebonnet painting. Since so many of these are formulaic and resemble one another, could you tell a Julian Onderdonk from a Porfirio Salinas, or a Robert Wood, or a W.A. Slaughter? They all might include a large, prominent oak tree, a ramshackle shed, a winding dirt road, blue sky with cumulus clouds and foreground filled with blue blossoms. Gratefully, all the artists named above sign their paintings and have legible signatures.
Not so for many contemporary painters and sculptors. Some only put identifying markings on the verso of canvases because they believe the signature interrupts the artistic statement. Some also paint on oversize canvases that are cumbersome to remove from the wall for inspection. Patricia pointed out a few of the pitfalls of identifying an artist through his/her style. Sometimes an artist’s style changes and grows radically as they mature. Sometimes an artist goes through a period of referencing the work of other artists that have influenced him and the work looks somewhat similar to the referenced artist. The visuals Ms. Meadows used gave ample proof that there are times when the style of one artist can be very similar to that of another known artist.
What’s an appraiser to do? I would suggest the following :
- Always ask the owner of the piece for any past sales receipts, provenance and any other printed information on their collection. This kind of information can speed up research quite a bit and might uncover information that is not available any other way.
- If you don’t recognize a signature, take a really good close-up picture of it so that later research can be conducted.
- Don’t be embarrassed to ask the owner for the artist’s name. After twenty-five years of appraising art, I still find artists whose work is brand new to me every year. The thrill of discovery is part of the joy of appraising.
- Consult a colleague! One of the great advantages of having scads of great appraisers as friends and colleagues is that you can call for help when you need it. Sometimes another appraiser will recognize the artist instantly and be happy to provide the help for free. Sometimes they need to do a little digging or will happily do the market research for you and charge you for their time. The cheapest investment in new learning that I have ever made is done when I pay a colleague to help with an appraisal!
Patricia’s talk was a great reminder of what an appraiser should already know…you cannot appraise until you have correctly identified an item. I always look forward to NTISA chapter meetings. Our chapter has been growing strong since the late 1980’s and is made up of some of the best-trained appraisers of personal property in the country. It’s always a great evening of visiting with friends, networking and learning. Thanks Patricia Meadows for thought-provoking presentation!