Speaking of Antiquing – August 2014

On a bright Friday morning in early May, I was standing in-line alongside Joelle Graves surrounded by others waiting to get inside a local estate sale. This time, it was the estate of Marjorie Edens, one of Jacksonville’s most beloved residents who had recently passed away, years before her time.

Bumping into Joelle, Margaret Barnes, Andy Lennert and Jacksonville’s other antique hounds has become “normal,” in my world.

Joelle was hoping to find some items of historical significance while I was hoping to find items considered historic to Jacksonville. In recent years, I’ve purchased several paintings at estate sales around the valley with direct ties to the Jacksonville community. I’ve even found several Eugene Bennett originals…several of which have been returned “home” to the Bennett Estate in Jacksonville, now owned by good friends of mine. The week before, I found a watercolor depicting a lively and colorful downtown Jacksonville scene painted in the 1970’s that now adorns my office wall. Although the artist is not famous, the work is “local” and paints a charming story, pun intended. Paintings are what interest me most, despite running short of wall space at home and at the office.

As soon as Joelle and I entered Marjorie’s low-slung, 1950’s ranch-style home, Joelle spotted an interesting painting and gave me a “that’s a good one to check-out” gesture. Then, Joelle bolted-off to see a cake plate…I wouldn’t see her again until the next day.

“Joelle, it’s Whit,” I said, speaking rapidly into my iPhone. “I was wondering if you noticed the other paintings at the sale, yesterday?”

Before she could respond, I blurted-out, “Well, I bought one you need to see…I think it’s the real thing, an original. I really need your expert opinion. I’m not sure what to do with it.”

Within minutes, I’d darted over to her shop, Sterling Creek Antiques on South Oregon Street, painting clutched under my arm.

Joelle held the silver-framed painting at arm’s length, studying it for several minutes. “Oh, yes – I think this is the real thing,” she said, nodding her head, grinning, moving-in for a series of close-ups. “Yes, this looks like an original Dorland Robinson work to me.”

I then handed her a copy of a book published by the Southern Oregon Historical Society, written by Dawna Curler titled, “A Lasting Impression, The Art and Life of Regina Dorland Robinson.” It’s the most in-depth book of its kind, featuring 95 plates, including the “painting” I’d purchased, “Still Life of White Gladiolas in Terra Cotta Pot.”

For reference, Dorland Robinson was born in Jacksonville in 1891 and had what was described as an idyllic childhood. Unfortunately, her life took a turn for the worse and she killed herself in San Mateo, California at the age of 26. Her family buried Dorland in the Jacksonville cemetery three days following her tragic death. During the annual Meet the Pioneers production in 2006, Dorland’s life was one of the featured stories, portrayed by Jayme Neil. Interestingly, it was Marjorie Edens who took on the task of researching the Dorland Robinson material and preparing much of the script for the re-enactment.

At her shop, Joelle dove into action-mode, pecking away at her computer like a detective. After a flurry of keystrokes, she reported that many of the artists’ paintings were still owned by the Southern Oregon Historical Society and were highly sought-after by collectors. To this day, SOHS is thought to own the largest number of her paintings with only about 50 in private hands. This determination made me doubt I’d found an original since so many collectors were interested in her work. “At the estate sale, I noticed that Marjorie’s home was filled with a lot’s of interesting, eclectic art and travel-related items, cook books galore, fascinating memorabilia and so much more cool stuff,” I said to Joelle. “You know, it kind of makes sense to me that she could have purchased the painting at an SOHS auction, been gifted the painting by Gene Bennett or inherited it,” Joelle offered.

Later that evening, I opened an email from Joelle with a link to an art collector/dealer she’d located during her day-long online search into Dorland Robinson’s life and work. It directed me to an art gallery in Portland, Oregon, owned by Mark Humpal, considered THE expert on Dorland Robinson’s art. “Portland,” I thought, “It’s close enough to visit one day and get a first-hand opinion…one of these days.” I’d soon discover that I was in the right place at the right time and that “one of these days” was today!

Within seconds, I’d snapped photos of the painting with my iPad and attached a note reading, “Dear Mr. Humpal, I bought this “Dorland Robinson” painting at an estate sale here in Jacksonville…attached are a few photos including a close-up of her signature…hoping you can provide info as to its authenticity.”

Within an hour, Mark had replied, “Looks like an original…I’m on the road traveling between California and Portland, doing some art appraisal work…I WILL BE COMING THROUGH JACKSONVILLE TOMORROW AND WOULD LOVE TO SEE THE PAINTING IN-PERSON!”

The shock hadn’t yet worn-off as I yelled out to my wife, “This guy Mark is coming through Jacksonville tomorrow!” Jo responded, “Naturally, of course he is…of course he is!” knowing that this sort of lucky thing happens to me all the time!

The following afternoon, Mark Humpal, a tall, mild-mannered, casually-dressed art expert, who looks a bit like Clark Kent, entered my office on California Street. After gazing through his loop at telltale brush strokes and other features, he carefully examined the signature. Then, he looked up and smiled, “Congratulations, you’ve done well, this is an original Dorland Robinson painting.” I called Joelle right away to share the good news and thanked her for her help.

Editor’s Note: As it turns-out, the painting I purchased isn’t going anywhere…it’s not being sold in a Portland gallery and it isn’t being auctioned-off. “Gladiolas” is staying where it belongs, here in Jacksonville. When the city completes the restoration of the Courthouse for city offices, I’m hoping a permanent “Jacksonville Artists” exhibit space will be created. When that happens, “Gladiolas” will be the first piece donated to the city. It’s my hope that we can keep Jacksonville’s art in Jacksonville for all to enjoy and will encourage others to do the same!

Oh, and I later confirmed that Marjorie Edens had indeed purchased “Gladiolas” at an SOHS auction-type event, after “an opportunity presented itself which she couldn’t pass up!”