By John McDermott
December 27, 2011
So, I bought a masonite panel and cut it down to the approximate size of the original canvas, and proceeded to paint a reproduction as well as I could from the small reference photo. I even 'antiqued' it by adding some 'age' effects into the varnish layers, and then put it into a gilded frame. I had rented a small display space at a local artist's gallery, so I decided to display my painting there (though I didn't intend to sell it). When I drove downtown with the painting, I couldn't find parking in front of the gallery, so I drove around and parked in a spot right outside the Ketchikan Historical Museum. For some reason it occurred to me that the Museum administrators might not be aware that the legendary artist Albert Bierstadt had visited locally in the 1880's, and in fact had made a painting of the Ancon as it sank in Loring Bay (he was a passenger on it when it went aground). So, I walked into the museum and showed my painting to the Museum Director...thinking I might stump him by asking if he knew anything about the scene. To my amazement, he looked very surprised, and asked me how I knew that the Museum was going to be having a major exhibit on the topic of Loring Bay. In fact, he said, they had been in negotiations with the Boston Museum of Fine Arts in order to borrow that exact original painting, to be a centerpiece of their exhibit. However, they were unable to get their hands on the extremely valuable original.
He then called in two women that were the curators of the upcoming exhibit, and they nearly fainted when they saw my painting. They assumed that it was the original, and that I was from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. They were literally shaking and turning white, stuttering, etc. After a few minutes I was able to convince them that I had in fact pained it myself. Of course, they were very hopeful that I would donate it to the Museum. I told them I would not donate it, but I might consider selling it. They replied that it was impossible for them to buy it from me, as they were a government agency, and therefor unable to buy such a thing from a living artist, at least not without a full-fledged public bidding process, etc. I left with my painting in-hand.
Some weeks later, the curator called to tell me that they had imposed upon the Mayor and City Council, and had explained their intense desire to obtain my painting as soon as possible. She told me that the Mayor and City Council had taken the time to create and sign a special 'one-time' variance that specifically allowed the Museum to buy my painting right away.
So, we struck up a deal, and the Museum bought my painting. It was displayed for several months as the centerpiece of their major 'Loring Bay' exhibit. It became a part of their archives and permanent collection, and if you inquire at the Historical Museum, it is available for viewing (usually in their archive room).
About: "I was born in Alaska, and moved to Ketchikan in 1960.
Received December 25, 2011 - Published December 27, 2011
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