How Do You Find Art by Obscure Artists?
March 25, 2015 7:33 AM   Subscribe

Recently we purchased a watercolor by an artist, who we discovered was originally from Wisconsin. During the 1930s he spent time in California working as an artist before returning to Madison, Wisconsin, where he spent his final years (1940s-1970s). We really like the artist's life story and artwork and would like to find more of his paintings. But, he's very obscure, help?

We've been searching gallery and online auction sites. It looks like only one of his paintings has popped up for sale a few years ago on an auction website. We suspect there must be more paintings in the Madison area, but we live over eight hours away, so we can't start searching flea markets, galleries, etc. Our particular watercolor came from California, so there's probably more of his work there, too.

Are there any Madison Mefites who know of any Wisconsin art galleries, antique shops, flea markets that might specialize in regional artists? For SoCal Mefites, do you have any recommendations?

Also, more broadly, where else and how else should we be searching? The artist isn't well known, so how does one research and find obscure regional artists? Do we try to find a local picker?

Any suggestions or advice would be much appreciated - thank you!
posted by Atreides to Media & Arts (8 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
What is the artist's name?
posted by rockindata at 7:44 AM on March 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


What was the artist doing in California? If he was part of the Federal Art Project you might search for WPA artist information.
posted by X4ster at 11:04 AM on March 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


Ok, I'm reverse-processing this question: how would someone find my art if I didn't have gallery representation or an online presence?

- Research the artist's name and family. Reach out to them. Someone in his family will likely know the whereabouts of more of his art than anyone.

- Email top-tier Wisconsin art galleries, as well as your best Madison galleries. They'll have further pro sources to find his art. FYI, they'll likely (and deservadly) want a cut of the purchase price of any pieces found available.

Good luck, it sounds like a great adventure!
posted by artdrectr at 2:54 PM on March 25, 2015


This is where you can hit a wall with online research--with older, unpopular material. Have you researched in an art library yet? There might be a book or catalogue on the artist. Clues in the book (like image credits and author info) can lead you to owners of artworks, or people who know where to look. Have you searched Google books yet? Worldcat?

Also, I am curious about your original story. How do you know about the history of the artist, life story and career? Who told you this? Why isn't that a lead for more info? If the story derives from a person who sold you the artwork, and they cannot give more info, then it could be fiction.

also let us know artist name...
posted by Jason and Laszlo at 8:46 PM on March 25, 2015


Yes, who is the artist?! :)
posted by persona au gratin at 1:25 AM on March 26, 2015


Thanks for the interest so far!

The reason I didn't supply the name because we have done exhaustive research and have contacted research facilities about the artist, hence how we have a generally good grasp of the artist's background. It's not a mission to learn more about the artist, but to learn what places in Wisconsin or Southern California might be best to trying to find more of his work.

- Research the artist's name and family. Reach out to them. Someone in his family will likely know the whereabouts of more of his art than anyone.

Unfortunately, he had no children and we haven't identified any extended family yet!

- Email top-tier Wisconsin art galleries, as well as your best Madison galleries. They'll have further pro sources to find his art. FYI, they'll likely (and deservadly) want a cut of the purchase price of any pieces found available.

We know nothing about Wisconsin art galleries, are there any you would suggest or know of?

This is where you can hit a wall with online research--with older, unpopular material. Have you researched in an art library yet? There might be a book or catalogue on the artist. Clues in the book (like image credits and author info) can lead you to owners of artworks, or people who know where to look. Have you searched Google books yet? Worldcat?

We have contacted an art library (it's where we received some of our info), in addition to archives and museums, and we have pretty much exhausted every online resource, academic or generally available to the public.

Thanks everyone for the interest and help!
posted by Atreides at 6:53 AM on March 26, 2015


One minor pointer, regarding research: I've found in my own research of obscure American artists from the pre WWII era that mis-spellings (and deliberate spelling changes) are extremely common with people's names. You'll need to make you own decisions about whether making your hunt public to the internet could potentially drive up prices, but it's been my experience that crowd-sourcing these sorts of things will frequently turn up resources due to spellings you never would have been googling.
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 9:39 AM on March 26, 2015


are there any you would suggest or know of?

MOWA

Other than that, yeah, I don't know Wisconsin very well.
Normally any gallery that participates in Art Basil would zoom to the top of my list.
But those may not be the right fit for mid-century Wisconsin watercolorists!
(which may be a good search term)
posted by artdrectr at 11:22 AM on March 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


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