Hoping for another Rockwell

opinion by Maylon Rice

Editor’s note: Maylon Rice is a former newspaper reporter, columnist and editor at several newspapers over the past 40 years. He ran, unsuccessfully for the Arkansas House of Representatives in 2012. A native of Warren, Rice lives in Fayetteville.

Opinions, commentary and other essays posted in this space are wholly the view of the author(s). They may not represent the opinion of the owners of The City Wire.

In this space in September we encouraged, no, we begged, Alice Walton, the Wal-Mart heiress and the signature/dreamer builder/financier of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, to please purchase a trio of Norman Rockwell paintings in a future New York sale.

The paintings were sold last week for an impressive (and American art sale record) $57.8 million. It was almost triple the assessed, pre-auction bid.

We do not know if Ms. Walton bought one, two or all three of these signature works. Or if she bought  any of them. But we can still hope she did. What a boom to NW Arkansas tourism and Crystal Bridges would that artwork be?

The New York Times noted that Ms. Walton, filmmakers George Lucas and Stephen Spielberg and billionaire Texan Ross Perot are all the top American collectors of Rockwell paintings. None of these big collectors were spotted at the Sotheby’s Auction House, in either the public gallery or hidden away in those secluded private skyboxes – overlooking the bidding floor below, the newspaper said.

The trio of Rockwell  paintings were all sold via telephone bidders.

An especially dramatic bidding exercise lasted well over nine minutes in an emotional back and forth on the signature “Savings Grace,” painting between two unknown callers/bidders.

The pre-auction estimate of $20 was quickly eclipsed before the price of $46 million dramatically ended the electrified bidding match. The only information the secretive auction house would divulge was that the bidding was conducted with bids going back and forth by Elizabeth Goldberg, director of American Art for Sotheby’s representing one client and Yasuaki Ishizaka, managing director of Sotheby’s Japan representing another client.

Goldberg’s caller, presumably, from the U.S., won the bidding on the painting.

We have also heard and come to expect that rarely does Ms. Walton acknowledge a purchase until she has seen the purchase in person and the work is in her possession.

So we can still dream, can’t we?

Jonathan Stewart, one of the two sons of the Saturday Evening Post’s long time art director Kenneth Stewart, who received the completed canvasses as presents from Rockwell, also was clueless as to who bought the trio of works. The younger Stewart said everyone was “very happy, exhilarated.”

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He also said of the process: “It’s been a wild ride.”

Let us hope that ride (and maybe a Rockwell) ends up at Crystal Bridges.

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