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Goodwill Industries becoming 'global garage sale'

Brenda Blackman, right, receives a donationTuesday from Lisa Hawkinson at the Goodwill store in Santa Rosa.

CHRISTOPHER CHUNG / The Press Democrat
Published: Tuesday, January 15, 2013 at 6:05 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 16, 2013 at 11:05 a.m.

Employees at the Goodwill store in Healdsburg did as they had been instructed and set the painting of the Indian aside because it included the artist's signature.

The portrait had arrived at the store as most donations do, in a container filled with other stuff.

“In my estimation, it was quite ugly,” said Mark Ihde, the CEO of Goodwill Industries of the Redwood Empire. “If I had seen it, I probably would have thrown it in the trash or put it on a shelf (for sale).”

Instead, the painting sold on Goodwill's online auction site for $70,001.01. Turns out, it was an original by famed Utah artist Maynard Dixon.

The 2009 transaction, made public for the first time this week, is an example of the valuable finds that have turned up at Goodwill stores across the nation in recent years.

In the past six months, a Salvador Dali sketch found at a Goodwill shop in Tacoma, Wash., sold for $21,000, and a North Carolina woman made more than $27,000 on a painting she bought for $9.99 at Goodwill.

In Milwaukee, a woman paid $12.34 for a lithograph that turned out to be the work of American artist Alexander Calder worth $9,000.

Such finds are the stuff of “Antiques Roadshow” dreams, and in the case of the Dixon piece sold in Santa Rosa, an example of how the auction world has been turned on its head with thrift stores offering valuable items for sale on the Internet.

“These days, the global garage sale is on eBay and Goodwill Industries. You never know what's going to show up,” said David Clemmer, a research specialist at the Zaplin Lampert Gallery in Santa Fe, N.M.

Ihde said the gallery was the highest bidder for “Blackfoot Indian” on shopgoodwill.com in 2009.

Clemmer could not “confirm or deny” the purchase because he said discretion is “part of what you pay for” in the elite art world.

But he acknowledged regularly perusing shopgoodwill.com and other online auction sites that have brought bidding and buying to within easy reach of the masses.

“At one time, in order to get information like this, you would have to call up Sotheby's or one of the other auction houses and subscribe to a catalog. Then you had to wait several days or weeks to get a price list,” Clemmer said.

“Now all that information is out there on the Internet,” he said.

Ihde said Goodwill staff knew they had something valuable when they put the Dixon painting online and the bidding immediately jumped to $5,000.

The amount Goodwill ultimately made on the transaction was second only to a Frank Weston Benson oil painting donated anonymously in Portland, Ore., that brought in $165,002 for the organization in 2006.

Ihde said proceeds from the Dixon painting were “meaningful” in pulling the Redwood Empire Goodwill out of a “very, very difficult financial pit that we had dug ourselves into” in 2009.

The organization's annual operating budget is $18 million, about $14 million of it raised through retail operations, Ihde said.

Most of that amount reflects the usual chock-a-block goods sold at Goodwill stores. But items that end up selling for more than $1,000 on the agency's online auction site are more common than one might think, said Taylor Reedy, who oversees Goodwill's Redwood Empire stores.

Tuesday at the Stony Point Plaza Goodwill, where the online auctions are hosted, Reedy displayed two paintings dropped off recently in Willits that may be the original work of Polish artist Aleksander Orlowski.

Goodwill is attempting to have the paintings authenticated.

Several items have sold for more than $1,000 on shopgoodwill.com's Redwood Empire site in the past two months. That includes a gold Bellini bracelet that fetched $2,202 and a painting that may have been the work of Sverre Halls that went for $2,080.

Reedy acknowledged that Goodwill employees only know enough about art “to be dangerous” and that items that are of value still slip through.

“That's great,” he said. “We're not going to get everything.”

Walking the clothes aisle Tuesday, Jan Heller of Guerneville said she doesn't shop Goodwill hoping to find a valuable treasure she can re-sell.

Still, she has fond memories of buying a Roseville planter at Goodwill for $6 that was worth about $50.

Her only lament is that Goodwill is more crowded these days.

“People used to look down on thrift stores. They don't anymore,” she said.

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