Written by Jennifer Pearson of Frugal Framer (May 2017)
Art accrues value for many reasons—not all of them monetary.
When is a piece of art a true treasure? Is it valuable because of the artist, or because of the provenance of the art? I have found that a true treasure can be defined for these reasons as well as another: to tell a story that is of timeless importance. I hear fascinating stories behind pieces of art every day.
Recently I had the pleasure of framing a unique portrait from the 1940s. The impressionist-style painting shows Eva Sacks Lebby, the great-aunt of a customer.
Eva (1903-1983) was a nurse with the Philadelphia School System until she joined the army at the start of World War II. Eva began her wartime career at Camp Croft in Spartanburg, South Carolina, and ended her first year of service in North Africa with the 48th Surgical Hospital. While stationed overseas, Eva was a part of the landing at Arzew, a port town occupied by German forces and located close to the strategic port city of Oran. In 1943 Eva was transferred to the 12th General Hospital, with which she served in Italy.
It is in this period that Eva undoubtedly commissioned her portrait. The beautiful painting captures a pointed gaze but is free of any wartime atmosphere. Although the artist is not known, and therefore the actual monetary value cannot be specifically determined or appraised, preserving and displaying Eva’s portrait and her story is of definite historical and emotional value to her family.
In addition to passing down the beautiful painting, Eva wrote many letters home documenting her experience in the army unit, the relative merits of general hospitals and evacuation hospitals, descriptions of her on- and off-duty uniforms, sightseeing in Italy, and discussions about romance and wartime relationships. Together with her portrait, the letters serve as a valuable reminder of the wartime contribution made by female members of the armed forces. Ernie Pyle, the Pulitzer Prize winning war correspondent, mentioned Eva in his book, Here Is Your War, describing in length the medical team that came from South Carolina, and all they did for the troops in Africa. Eva’s niece conveyed to me that her aunt was a strong female presence in her life, and that preserving and displaying the painting is a way to pay homage to Eva’s life and influence.
The act of preserving family stories, memorabilia, and art has both tangible and intangible benefits. With our aging population, parents and grandparents are downsizing homes and curating their treasured possessions. Recently, another customer produced a stack of signed and numbered prints by the late artist Charley Harper. Born in 1922 and based for most of his life in Cincinnati, Charley was an American Modernist best known for his wildlife prints and posters, additionally illustrating numerous books and magazines. For 50 years he produced nature-inspired serigraphs (a silk-screen method of printing) rich with color and providing the viewer with a stylized perspective of the animal kingdom.
The parents of the customer had collected the Harper prints in the 1970s. While some of the prints were framed and displayed, additional prints had been stored, and for the most part forgotten, under a bed for years. Luckily, the prints were in good condition, just waiting to be preserved and displayed. To do so, the art was framed with conservation framing techniques utilizing acid free materials and UV filtering glass to prevent fading of the artwork and matboard. Future generations will now be able to enjoy the art for its collectability and for the interesting family story surrounding the collection.
Another idea of “art as treasure” speaks to the importance of new art, or art that comes into a customer’s collection as a reflection of their current place in life. This can include, for example, a young family’s constant inclusion of children’s art as an important part of the framed family story. Many parents have boxes of art created by their children at school or through art lessons. Framing children’s art can be simple and economical, or elaborate and designed to last for decades.
Similarly, it may be the act of protecting and displaying treasures and collections that have been obtained while travelling or from local galleries. One can easily find an appealing, interesting poster or print that can be purchased online, but a more meaningful way to collect art is to visit artists and galleries in their own communities. We are very fortunate in Western North Carolina to have many working-artist studios where a customer can interact directly with the artist. This interaction both creates memories and strengthens the consumer’s connection, not only with the art purchased, but with the actual artist. Understanding why and how an artist achieved a particular mood or view in a painting lends depth to the story.
When is a piece of art a true treasure? It may or may not be part of a valuable collection. But if it tells your story, makes you smile, or brings back a wonderful memory, then it is a true treasure worthy of being preserved and displayed.
To read more about Eva’s story and see additional images, visit FrugalFramer.com/stories. Frugal Framer has been framing art, memorabilia, and unique artifacts in Asheville since 1975.
The full article continues below. Click to open in fullscreen…