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Surrealistic art at stake in storage dispute

A fight over a high-value collection of paintings left behind by a Mill Valley artist has splashed onto Sonoma County's legal canvas.

Jason Stiegelmeyer of Petaluma, the son of the late visionary surrealist Norman Stiegelmeyer, has sued in Superior Court for the return of 61 colorful pieces up for grabs in a storage dispute.

Stiegelmeyer contends an ex-employer, contractor Brian Heim, also of Petaluma, agreed to keep the work in exchange for payments of one painting per month, which Heim valued at $100 each.

When Stiegelmeyer attempted to retrieve the art two months later, Heim refused, insisting he was owed for a minimum of 12 months plus moving fees totaling 39 paintings.

Heim has since sold two or three of the works. "Extreme Circumstances" and "Mental Landcape," both painted in the 1960s, fetched a combined $18,400 last year at a Los Angeles auction.

Art experts and Stiegelmeyer's lawyer, Joseph C. Tinney, agreed the entire collection is worth about $300,000. Norman Stiegelmeyer died in 1984.

"The guy has talent," said Robert Green, a Mill Valley gallery owner for the past 44 years. "There is certainly money there."

This week, Superior Court Judge Arthur Wick granted Stiegelmeyer's request for a preliminary injunction, blocking further sales until the dispute is resolved.

Wick said in his ruling that Heim "reaped a windfall over his initial $100 valuation."

"The paintings have sold for many times that amount," Wick wrote. "As the paintings sell, they become out of reach of the defendant and presumably this court."

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