MARGARETSVILLE, NS - It was a fairly typical auction April 28 -- until Rick Bezanson sold the Maud Lewis for $18,000.
The Margaretsville auctioneer started it at $25,000 but had no takers until a young woman at the back of the hall said $10,000 and the bidding began.
Rick Bezanson’s wife and partner Laurie Bezanson said they sold all their box lots that were crowded in the hallway of the old elementary school-turned auction house by noon that day. Then the Maud Lewis came up on the block and a hush fell over the room.
“That never happens,” she said. There’s always whispering, shuffling of feet, people walking around. This time it was dead silence. You could hear a pin drop and everyone looked up to the front while Laurie took the precious folk art out of a cabinet.
Then Rick’s and Laurie’s daughter Abigail started talking while Laurie carefully carried the framed painting of a pair of oxen through the packed house so interested auction patrons could see it close up.
“This painting today is painted on beaverboard, a pulpboard – Maud’s most common painting surface,” said Abigail.
But people were stopping Laurie wanting to take pictures with the painting. Laurie said many people showed up at the auction not to bid on it, but just to see it.
One older woman came specifically to see the Maud Lewis.
“She asked to come up and get a picture taken with the Maud,” said Laurie. “And then when I’m walking around people asked Rick if it was okay to stop me and take a picture of it. There were two or three people just came for pictures of it.”
Like all things Maud, there was a story behind the painting. Abigail explained while Laurie went through the crowd.
“This painting was purchased by the consignor’s aunt who lived in a cottage in Weymouth during the summer months,” she said. “It was purchased in the 1940s or ‘50s. Upon the aunt’s passing, the painting came to her (the consignor’s) mother who lived in Ottawa and she had it framed in Ontario. When the consignor’s mother passed in the late 1980s, the consignor received the painting and it was brought back to where it was first located.”
Back, in fact, to the cottage in Weymouth.
Abigail said that an expert examined the painting and agreed with the consignor that the painting was a late 1940s or early 1950s authentic Maud Lewis painting.
Lewis was born in 1903 in South Ohio in Yarmouth County but moved to Marshalltown outside Digby where she lived with husband Everett Lewis and is remembered as perhaps Canada’s most important folk artist. She suffered from juvenile rheumatoid arthritis and painting became increasingly more difficult.
Abigail, an auctioneer herself, said Maud’s paintings have sold at auction for increasing prices.
“Two of her paintings sold for more than $16,000,” she said. “A painting at a Toronto auction in 2009 sold for $22,000. In 2012 another painting sold for $20,400.”
She said a painting last year that was found in a thrift store that was appraised for $16,000 sold for $45,000.
“This is a beautiful, early Maud Lewis painting,” Abigail told the crowd. “The early ones are rare to find.”
Rick Bezanson took the microphone at that point and asked what he was offered for the painting. He can remember every bid. From the time the painting was taken from the cabinet to the time it was sold was about five minutes. In the end, a young Nova Scotia collector, who wishes to remain anonymous, walked away with the folk art piece for $18,000.
Laurie believes it fetched so much be cause it was an early Maud. People wrote her afterwards and said it was the nicest Maud they’d seen.
“She was really in her prime, because later on she was putting so many out that she wasn’t as fancy, and this was very nicely done. And she signed it in ink, whereas her 1950s and ‘60s pieces, a lot of them were signed in marker because her hands were so bad. So that helped the value too.”
With the Maud painting sold that hush was gone and it was back to business.
“Everything returned to normal,” said Laurie, marveling at the reverence the Maud Lewis piece commanded from the crowd. The background noise resumed, the next item came up on the block, and the auction continued with furniture, sets of good china, a wood chipper, fishing rods, ornaments, and an assortment of other items ordinary folk would bid on.
To Rick Bezanson, the situation was unusual only in that for 22 years he was the auctioneer at the Bear River Fire Department’s annual auction during Cherry Carnival. Thirty or 35 years ago it wasn’t unusual for numerous Maud Lewis paints to be donated to the cause – fetching just a few dollars each.
“They just gave them away,” said Rick. “They didn’t think they would bring five bucks, let alone 20. They’d just sell them. Get rid of them.”
He wonders what those generous donors think today.
Both Rick and Laurie Bezanson believe the $18,000 bid sets an Annapolis Valley record for a Maud Lewis painting.