Friday, November 25, 2011

Hotel Art?

 unnamed, H. Helgason, 10" x 8", oil on canvas

  Based on the amount of authoritative responses to my original post, I am updating this post in its entirety, instead of just adding an update section to the post.
  This is what I once thought was "Hotel Art", that is, art which was commissioned, or distributed, by a company that provided art to commercial institutions like hotels, motels, etc., perhaps copied from other works or maybe duplicated many times. A label on the back shows that the art was distributed by a company called Personal Preference Inc. (PPI) of Lisle, IL.
  Actually, PPI was a company that worked directly with artists to offer their original works to customers at "house parties", using a paradigm similar to that used for Tupperware parties of the 1950s. PPI used Tupperware's direct marketing strategy in which individuals contracted with PPI to present their wares, original art, at a house party. All of these art pieces had a PPI label verso, that contained PPI's contact information, the name of the person who brought the artwork to the party, an inventory number and sometimes the name of the person who purchased the artwork. All of the artwork was framed using frames made in Mexico. PPI worked mainly with unknown or new artists. Subsequently, some of these artists became successful, and even well known.
  I have other paintings, and a few collages, in my collection that were also distributed by Personal Preference Inc. of Lisle, IL, and all are quite well done.


  Regarding the painting from my collection used as an example of PPI's wares, the artist has been identified as H. Helgason by a former PPI consultant who knew the artist, who was her mother's favorite artist. This may be the work of Hallgrimur Helgason, an Icelandic painter, writer, translator and columnist. There is a fairly lengthy Wikipedia entry for him and several YouTube videos featuring him. Helgason lived in Boston in 1985-6 and in New York in 1986-9 where he painted and exhibited and was apparently a starving artist with numerous occupations to support himself, so it does not seem implausible that PPI may have been one of them. He returned to New York, briefly, in 1995. Helgason later enjoyed, and enjoys, success as an artist, writer and poet. I am, though, still trying to confirm the identity of the artist who created this painting.

H. Helgason's Signature

Sunday, November 6, 2011

California/Spanish mystery artist.

 unnamed, unknown, 10.75" x 8", watercolor

 I purchased this painting on ebay from a seller in California, so assumed it was by a California artist. Later, I spotted another work by this artist that was inscribed with the location of Granada, Spain and dated October 1967. The artist has a very unusual signature, which is totally illegible, but which I hope someone will recognize. The other watercolor was of Granada, Spain, from a distance, and I had to yoink on it with the Gimp image editor to get it squared up which probably somewhat distorted the proportions in an already poor photo. I did not purchase the second watercolor because the seller wanted too much for it, IMHO. Since my painting could also be a Spanish scene, I don't know if we are dealing with a Spanish painter or a Californian sojourning in Spain, or neither. Any help in identifying this artist is appreciated.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Fetching etching

unnamed, unknown, 6" x 8", etching on thin paper

I found this etching at a local thrift shop. It is on thin paper, perhaps just regular printer paper. I think it might be the artist's first test of his etching plate. It is really good, I think, and I suspect there are more copies of this etching out there. Unfortunately, it is not signed or marked in any way, so I'll have to hope that someone has seen another copy of this etching. Any help would be appreciated.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Bartsch smartsch.

unnamed, W. Bartsch, 15" x 18", oil on canvas

This was an ebay find. It was presented as the work of Wilhelm Bartsch (1871-1953) and the signature does somewhat resemble his signature, but this painting is done on a commercially produced American canvas, and Bartsch was a German painter with no records to indicate that he ever painted in the US. I doubt that this is his work.
The stretcher bears an 1886 patent date, but I doubt that this painting is so old. It more likely dates to around 1900-1920 and is in a European style. I think it is more likely the work of an immigrant named Bartsch, but would be happy to be proved wrong.

Polzer puzzler

unnamed, Joe Polzer, 9" x 15", watercolor

This was a thrift shop find. It is in a Mission style oak frame with wavy old glass and I think dates from the 1920s or 1930s. I could not find any record of this artist, though there were several men named Joe or Joseph Polzer in the early 1900s. This is a fairly decent watercolor, so likely not this artist's only work. There are some light pencil notations on the back of the watercolor, framing instructions and a name and address that reads "Mrs. J. Roth, 203 So 25th St., Call Wed.".  There is no telephone number, so my guess is that Mrs. Roth planned to call in person.


I was contacted by Mr. Polzer's granddaughter and with her information and information from census and other records the following biography was created.

Joseph J Polzer Jr. was born on 18 September 1890 in Omaha,Nebraska, son of Austrian immigrants Joseph and Mary Weiss Polzer, and died on 7 September 1966 in San Gabriel, CA. He was married to Ruth Irene Roth on 6 February 1917. He was working as a painter in 1910 in Omaha. Joseph and Ruth were living in Rapid City, SD in 1920 where he was employed as an interior decorator. They were in Los Angeles by 1930 where Joseph was working as foreman, telephone. They had children Louis A and Jo Ann.  Joe was an active member of Telephone Pioneers and participated in local area art shows, especially during the early sixties around Alhambra, Temple City and San Gabriel, CA. He was active as a painter in oils and watercolors for most of his life, often selling paintings. He is buried in the Resurrection Cemetery in San Gabriel. According to his granddaughter, his signature changed over time. My painting was done early in his career. I will add him to the California Artists page of my art collection web site, since he lived and worked there for many years.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

R. Hankey etcher?

unnamed, R. Hankey (?), 4.5" x 6.25", etching with watercolor

       The signature on this etching is hard to read and could be Henkey or Hevkey. There was a well known British etcher named William Lee Hankey, perhaps this is a relative? This small etching was framed by the Zepp Photo Supply store of Baltimore, which was founded in 1900 and in business until the 1980s. I am guessing this etching dates from the 1920s or 1930s. Any help is appreciated.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

C. Alice Chamberlin and Elenor Heller of Los Angeles?

unnamed, C. Alice Chamberlin, 5.5" x 5", watercolor

I am showing these two watercolors together, because they were both purchased at the monthly bazaar at the Hollenbeck Home in Los Angeles in early 2011. This bazaar sells the possessions of residents who have "moved on" or are downsizing. Items from outside the home are also included. Both paintings were in ornate gilded frames of roughly the same vintage, though dissimilar in appearance. I think these watercolors are also the same vintage, maybe 1890s or early 1900s. I suspect that there may be some connection between C. Alice Chamberlin and Elenor Heller, or that the owner of these paintings knew both artists.

unnamed, Elenor Heller, 7.5" x 5.5", watercolor

The first painting had "Alice Chamberlin" written faintly in pencil on the backing of the painting and "C. A. Chamberlin" was written in pencil on the back of the painting, itself. The Heller painting is signed "E. Heller" on front and faintly signed "Elenor Heller" in small writing on the back of the painting.

I contacted the Hollenbeck Home and they were very helpful, though they did not have a record of either of these artists living there.  The only resident named Heller in their records was Jeane B. Heller who lived there 2/10/1945 to 4/25/1951, long before the sale of these two paintings. There was no record of a C. A. Chamberlin.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Mystery Hawaiian Vase

Vase, 6" x 3", signed but illegible

This is a high quality, heavy porcelain vase that is marked as "Made in Hawaii" on the bottom and signed illegibly. This is a good piece, and must be from an established potter or pottery, so I am hopeful that someone will recognize the mark or the decoration on this vase.

Mitchell of California?

"Yacht Harbor", L. V. Mitchell, 8" x 12", watercolor, 1952

 I found this at a local thrift shop for $1.99. It was barely held in a modest frame and very dirty, so it did not look like much. I thought it had kind of a California watercolor feel about it and was pleasantly surprised to find a lengthy inscription on back when I opened it up: "Yacht Harbor from Coast Guard Landing Terminal (?)land Cal May 11, 1952". This might be the Oakland Marina, but I could not find any pictures that match the scene shown in the painting. Probably the work of a talented amateur, though I have seen works by well known California watercolor artists that is not much better. There is no mention of an artist named Mitchell with these initials in any art reference book I have examined, but I suspect there are other works by this artist out there, maybe more fully signed. Any assistance in identifying this artist is appreciated.

Sunday, June 19, 2011


unnamed, Tillett, 13" x 11.75", pastel

This work was framed in Providence, RI, but feels Caribbean, to me. There was an artist and gallery owner in St. Thomas named Jim Tillett who passed away around 2000 who may be the creator of this painting, but there is very little information available about his work as an artist.

Mystery "end of day" glass vase!

unnamed, unknown artist,  14" x  4", blown glass

This was another thrift shop find. The owner of this shop purchases his finds mostly at estate sales, so often nothing is known about the things he buys, except sometimes the name of the deceased. In this case he didn't remember where this piece came from. It is signed, but I can't make out the signature. I used to be a collector of factory art glass and in the early 20th century this kind of glass was called "end of day glass" because the scraps of the various different colored glass used during the day was combined to make the last objects of the day, which resulted in multi-colored pieces like this one. Illinois State University is nearby and they have a well known glass program, and I suspect this may be the work of a student from there. Any help in deciphering the signature is appreciated. Seems to be dated '95 or '99.

Fused glass vase mystery!

 unnamed, unknown artist, 12.75" x 6.25"-4.5", fused glass

This fused glass vase came from the same estate as the fused glass sculpture shown in my last blog entry.  Like the other piece, this one is not signed. My guess is that this is not a mass produced piece, as it has a domed shaped grind on the bottom, possibly where a pontil was removed. It seems to be a fairly complex piece as the part of the vase that bears the design is encased in clear glass. Other than that I have no clues about the maker and origins of this piece. One person I showed it to speculated that the artist may have made their mark in the decorative design. If so, I have not been able to identify it. Just hoping someone out there is familiar with this artist's work. He'p me!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Fused glass sculpture mystery!

unnamed, unknown, 18.5" x 15" x 1/2", fused glass

Mystery Solved! This is the work of Edward Martin, Springfield, Illinois fused glass artist. He has a web site.

This piece migrated from place to place at the local thrift shop before there was a 50% off art sale, and I picked it up. It is fused glass, about nine pounds worth. It came from the estate of a Bloomington, IL builder who also lived six months of the year in Highland Beach, FL and squeezed in time at a family cabin in Ludington, MI. In addition, he travelled to several countries. Since this piece is not marked in any way, it will be a challenge for me to identify the artist, so hopefully someone will recognize the work of this artist!? No idea of when it was made, either. Sigh. Not a commercial piece, I think, since the hanger and spacers verso are roughly cut Lucite blocks, glued on.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Mystery monotypes!

unnamed, unknown, 1 7/8" x 5 7/8", monotypes, 1991

I found these very nicely framed, and interesting monotypes at a local pawn shop. The signatures are maddeningly close to being readable, but I can't make them out. A lot of work went into making these, so it would be nice if the artist received recognition for his or her work. 

Midwest Fauvist?

unnamed, unknown, 10" x 12", oil

Not much hope here, probably . There is what may be a signature in the lower right corner. This painting was framed in the shop of a Bloomington, IL framer who was active from the early 1960s to the early 1990s. I paid $5 for this at a local thrift shop, but I really (Really) like it. I suspect that it is the work of a local artist, but just a guess. Interesting color choices.


unnamed, Hottingh? Nottingh?, 18" x 24", oil

This was a find at a local thrift shop. I was at first torn between liking the frame and liking the painting. The painting eventually won. This is a painting that comes alive in the right light and at the right distance. It appears to have been painted mostly using a knife. I suspect that this painting may be European in origin. The signature appears to be something like "Mauriry Hottingh" or "Morriry Nottingh". I am certain that this is more than an amateur artist's work, but I can find no information on this artist, probably because I am not searching for the correct name. A little help here!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

L. Kohn European artist?

unnamed, L. Kohn, 4" x 9", oil on canvas

    This is an ebay find. The seller claimed it was the work of Ludwig Kohn and that they had found two images of paintings with identical signatures in old auction catalogues. That may or may not be true, but I was fairly easily able to locate an example of a work by Ludwig Kohn on the Internet and the style and signature did not resemble the work of this artist. Ludwig Kohn seems to have signed with his full first name, not the initial "L". That being said I like this artist's work. I suspect he or she worked in Europe, possibly in France. I found another work by an L. Kohn that reminds me of this artist's style and the signatures are very similar, too. Several folks have contacted me who also have works by this artist. Any information about this artist would be appreciated.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

No Hope for New Hope?

unnamed, unknown, 22" x 28", oil

    I don't often buy unsigned paintings because it is usually very hard to find out anything about them and it thwarts my enjoyment in doing research. I am a sucker for winter paintings though, especially colorful ones, so here we are. This one was purchased by the previous owner at an estate sale in Hopewell, NJ in early 2009 and described as in the New Hope School style and guesstimated to be 1930s vintage. I tend to agree on the age, judging by the board it is painted on and the frame it is in. The board is canvas board that has a built in paper backing that is darkened and quite brittle. The scene could certainly be 1930s-1950s. It is a mixture of naive and fairly sophisticated painting, obviously done by a painter of some experience, though perhaps not formally trained. I don't have any hope that I will be able to find out more about it. Just planning to enjoy it on those hot, Midwestern July afternoons. I have a slim hope that someone may be living who actually saw this painting hanging in someone's home or may recognize the artist's style.

Don't Bale on me now!

unnamed, Bale, 3" x 5", watercolor

    I found this one at a local thrift shop and paid very little for it. For such a small painting, it is very complex and colorful. It was simply but nicely framed and matted, and I half expected I would find it was some kind of print when I removed the cardboard backing to replace it, I have this one hanging to the right of my kitchen sink, so get to look at it a lot and never get tired of it. I have not been able to find out anything about this artist, though the signature is very unique. I think this dates from the 1980s or 1990s. 

Too many Peter Shostaks!

"Snow on Onondaga Road", Peter Shostak, 17" x 29", acrylic, 1977

    This painting was sold to the folks I purchased it from as the work of well known Canadian artist Peter Shostak. I contacted the artist, however, and he confirmed that this is not his work. The painting is signed verso both "P. Shostak" and "Peter Shostak". The sellers took the painting back to the people they had purchased it from to ask for a refund, and they were apparently rudely turned down, even though I sent them the email from Mr. Shostak, claiming they had sold it as his work in good faith, believing it to be a painting by him. The question now becomes did the original sellers sign the work in an attempt to pass if off as the work of Canadian artist Peter Shostak, or were they also duped, or is this work by another artist also named Peter Shostak? I like the painting and the cost was very little, so I decided to keep it and use it as a research opportunity. The painting depicts the Syracuse Mony Towers, as they were then known (now the AXA Towers) as seen from Onondaga Road in winter.
    My initial research showed that there are up to nine men named Peter Shostak now living in the US. I also found the record of another Peter I. Shostak 1913-1989 who was born in New Hampshire, lived in New York state, and died in Orlando, Florida. His WWII enlistment record shows that he had four years of college and was working as an actor at the time of his enlistment. He was the son of Russian Jewish immigrants John G. and Annie Shostak. He married Anna Yaroush on 11 October 1964 in Stratford, CT. There were also several other men by the same name, who were too old to be the creator of this painting. I have not been able to find contact information for the nine living men, but will keep trying.
The painting is titled verso. The second seller is from Baldwinsville, NY and the original sellers live nearby. I tried unsuccessfully to find an image of the Mony Towers from this perspective.

Spragg as in Sprague

unnamed, Spragg, 12" x 16", oil on board

    No idea who this artist is, but I love this painting, and it is one of my favorites. I purchased it from a seller in Townsend, MA, who estimated the board it is painted on to be pre-WWII. It is a small painting in a really nice vintage frame, was cheap, and I am a sucker for bleak winter scenes, especially with a small pop of color like the red in the woman's shawl.     I researched a man named Spragg who I though might be the artist, but it was a false lead. What I did learn is the name Spragg is Norwegian and pronounced the same as the surname "Sprague". Any help in identifying this artist would be appreciated.