A severe snowstorm swept through Eastern Ontario on January 1st, 2008 – snowflakes the size of soda crackers fell from the sky as we drove west from Cobourg through the blizzard to buy some good Canadian Art.
This was especially unfortunate weather for Randy Potter; the auction entrepreneur was hosting a high profile estate sale this morning inside his own converted automotive garage turned auction hall at 15 Cavan Street in the snow clogged heart of historic Port Hope.
Bad weather is always good news for auction attendees, and veteran Dumpdiggers don’t think twice about sorting their way through six inches of wet snow to get at the best bargains of the year. There was certainly no snow removal service at work in Port Hope yet, and the center of the snowstorm was Whitby, Ajax and Pickering. Nobody would be commuting from Toronto today. The oversized flakes were still falling as my friend’s four-wheel drive SUV found easy parking outside Randy Potter’s cinder block building.
Inside this cluttered antiques arena, behind its huge garage doors and underneath the unflattering fluorescent lights, Randy Potter himself held court.
On Jan 1st 2008, in the middle of a severe Ontario snowstorm there was some serious early Canadian contemporary art for sale.
Presiding over the market, Randy Potter was the only man with a microphone, and two hundred spectators eagerly listened to the charismatic auctioneer (who seemed to know most of the audience by name) as he rattled off keyword specific phrases associated with each Canadian cultural object de’art on the block.
Much of this stuff sold cheap, and I was surprised to learn the true values of Canadian art deco lamps and ashtrays. My friend thought aloud about buying a crate of Lincoln Logs for two bucks (for his kids), but then seemed more captivated by the antique porcelain dolls heads, dishes, pottery and crocks that he could see on tables in the background.
This was an auction with commentary by Randy Potter, who occasionally lamented the soft prices with anecdotal remarks like, “I sold this very piece a couple of years ago for six hundred bucks…’ which he said in a tone of obvious disappointment as today’s winning bid totaled less than half that amount.
Occasionally one of Randy’s assistants would rest a long stick below one of fifteen Norval Morrisseau signed acrylic on canvas paintings that were hung with care on the wall behind the podium, and the bidding would get white hot for a few minutes.
Fifteen Norval Morrisseau paintings were sold.
Norval Morrisseau paintings are, in my opinion, a terrific investment. The auction staff had hoped that each of these pieces would fetch between three to five thousand dollars as Norval Morrisseau is now considered by contemporary critics to be one of the most important painters (native or otherwise) that Canada has ever produced. You would think the price of his art would appreciate handsomely after his recent 2007 death? But these market factors were not evidenced on Jan 1st 2008 in Port Hope – and consequently there were some real bargains to be had here.
Public apathy (from years of bad prices) and the economic realities at work in this ‘age of uncertainty’ continue to deflate art auction values – I suppose there’s a myriad of factors that keep the prices of these beautiful pieces in the basement; most of these canvases sold for between two to three thousand dollars.
In addition to these terrific pieces there was a Roland Gissing oil on canvas, and a William Brymner painting. There was also an F. Catano water colour, a Lemoine Lionel Fitzgerald painting as well as a Lemoine Lionel Fitzgerald pen & ink; and a Charles Jones Way water colour. But above all of these respected artist’s work there was one eagerly anticipated piece – a 19th century painting that was signed C. Krieghoff. Three bidders ran the price higher and higher. There were two bidders in the room, and one telephone bidder. This oil painting sold for $12,000 as everyone in the room clapped.
Marshall Gummer scrutinizes the Sale Bill
In the back of the room a very knowledgeable appraiser named Marshall Gummer was calmly waiting for exactly the right moment to raise his enumerated card.
Item number #174 on the Jan 1st 2008 Sale Bill at Randy Potter’s Auction House was indexed as E.Conyers Barker water colour
and Marshall Gummer, one of Canada’s foremost antiques and collectibles experts, was on his own personal quest to buy this painting.
The expert that MoneySense magazine relies upon for accurate appraisals first bid one hundred dollars, then two hundred, and then three hundred dollars – all without hesitation. Marshal acted real determined to make the other bidders aware of his stubborn determination to possess this painting.
The price climbed to three hundred and twenty five dollars and Randy Potter called out ‘Three fifty?’ and Marshall nodded his head. ‘Three seventy five?’ Four Hundred. SOLD! And that’s how my friend bought a significant piece of Canadian art history for four hundred bucks.
In the painting entitled ‘Caledon’, E. Conyers Barker used watercolors to paint the likeness of Caledon’s first homes (one complete with an outhouse) in 1929 – Marshall has of course researched this piece in great detail and more information appears on Marshall’s website, The Appraiser.ca.
Ernest Conyers Barker was born in Toronto on the 18th of March 1909. He died just a few years ago, in Barrie Ontario on the 5th of December 2003. He was inflicted with polio at an early age and remained confined to a wheelchair throughout his life.
Conyers Barker was a fine representational artist best known for his landscapes. He worked in water colours, oils and acrylics. This wheelchair bound painter was a significant member of the Canadian art scene for many years because he was early in ‘the club’ as they say, at the age of 17 years old – in 1924 he won the significant distinction of having a painting hung at the Art Gallery of Toronto, which only later became the AGO.
Born in Toronto, young Ernest studied art at Central Tech (Bathurst at Harbord St.) under Lawrence Panton, Alfred Howell, B.Coghll and P.Haworth and finally under Frederick Henry Brigden at the OSA.
D. Freeman, who has since authored a book, ‘The Horizontal Boy – The Life and works of Conyers Barker’ has made a good presentation of the fact that the crippled boy was a friend of Franklin Carmichael, Joachim Gauthier, Tom MacLean, A.J.Casson and Franz Johnston and was affectionately labeled as ‘the Horizontal Boy’ early in his career by these distinguished members of the Group of Seven. This was in recognition of his ‘non conformative linear’ approach to landscape painting, in which he simplified and stylized colour shapes to suggest landscape forms – according to D Freeman, it had nothing to do with his slouching.
Despite the crippling disabilities suffered as a result of contracting polio as an infant, Earnest worked assiduously throughout his life, especially in Northern Ontario and Algonquin Park, following in the footsteps of his earliest influence, Tom Thomson.
His principal ambition during his middle years was to become the finest abstractionist in Canada. But this pursuit did not materialize as the development of his own unique and distinctive form of Realism took over – Conyers Barker’s Realism brought him commercial success in the 1950’s when he was recognized in Canada’s fledgling art scene as an Individualist. He traveled extensively throughout Canada, particularly in the Prairie Provinces and the Maritimes, but Conyers Barker also painted in Florida, and in the Dominican Republic and in Scotland, Wales and England.
Formally, E. Conyers Barker was and will always be remembered as an Ontario artist with his first studios in Toronto, then in the town of Stayner, and finally in Barrie where he worked throughout the 1950’s as an illustrator and commercial artist for Canadian Television CKVR.
Actively painting into his celebrated nineties, blindness finally overcame E. Conyers Barker in the year before his death on 5th of December 2003.
Marshall Gummer was all smiles after purchasing a smart art investment. This is the brand of fine art that he enjoys the most as it reminds him of his own youth and the time he spent on his cousin’s farm in Dartford, Ontario.
And this was a really terrific acquisition, which I personally have no doubt will be further proved as the market appreciates and Canadian culture finds a new premium in the hearts and minds of collectors.
When buying fine art as an investment, Dumpdiggers believes that content is just as important as the painter’s pedigree, and those paintings that detail historic glimpses of early Ontario landscapes will be some of the first pieces to skyrocket in price. Smart buy Marshall. Good time management my friend you are an expert. Marshall!