Thursday, February 03, 2011

God promised to provide for widows and the fatherless [Ansel Adams story]

In the months following Bob's passing away, years ago, I began sorting through his collections of memorabilia, and discovered a large flat bag containing a fancy portfolio full of black and white photographs. I vaguely remembered seeing it when we were first married, and had put it on his closet shelf with his other stuff. I probably haven't looked at these photos in 55 years.

The silk binder looked pretty fragile now, and the papers separating the photos looked like old-fashioned "sepia tone" was used to make things look antique. But on closer look, I saw that each photo was signed in pencil, below the right corner. I could barely make out, "A. Adams".

Then, I recalled that Bob had won a camping trip to the Sierras, when he was an Eagle Scout, back in our high school days, somewhere in 1944 or '45. This set of Ansel Adams' prints was part of the prize, perhaps a gift from his own parents, or from his Uncle Alan who was an avid photographer, and who tried to encourage Bob in his interest in photography.

We carted this portfolio to all the houses we lived in after settling down in California in 1952, following two and a half years on the east coast. We never considered its value. Only one or two of our children ever saw the photos, so the portfolio was pretty much forgotten.

We were familiar with using the internet to gauge the value of items for sale and had sold a few of Bob's things on eBay. My son John checked on the sale of Ansel Adams Parmelian Prints of the High Sierras and found that just one signed print had recently sold for several thousand dollars. And here we had the entire portfolio of 18 signed prints. It was made in 1927. At most, 150 sets were ever printed.

We had heard of CLARS on TV, a huge auction house in Oakland, CA. It offers free appraisals every Thursday. Those years ago, John and I drove up there (a little over an hour) and sat in the waiting room with a lot of other people carrying odd-looking packages and/or antique looking framed pictures, and small furniture. Eventually, a young woman called us in to show her what we had. She used white gloves to turn the pages. I was impressed. She used a computer to check out the value of our item, and she discovered which photos had recently sold. If we were to have them sell the portfolio, they would be keeping it there. This was all new to us, and we wanted to think through options, so we brought it back home.

That week, I told the group of ladies with whom I meet for weekly Bible study, how I realized that God was keeping His promise to provide for me, as the "widow and the fatherless" ... perhaps through Bob's prize given to him so long ago.

Last week, after we saw a Clars ad on TV again, I said to John that we should take it back up there. John emailed Clars a few days ago, telling them that we would be bringing in an Ansel Adams item and wanted to give them a "heads up" so they could alert whoever might be the right person to meet with us. He got an email back from Rick Unruh. He told us to ask for him when we arrived. So, instead of driving early to try to beat the crowd, we leisurely drove up, walked in, and informed a worker to tell Rick we had arrived, and then we joined the crowd of folks with their suitcases and bags of items.

Soon, a gentleman worked his way over to us, introduced himself as Rick, and graciously worked us through the group of folks with their odd parcels, past the "out front" tables where appraisers sat opposite individuals with their items, and took us to a quiet area around back where a table awaited our arrival. We then learned that he was the Director of Fine Arts.

He put on white gloves that I had brought. As he turned the pages, we could see that he was obviously impressed. He told us that he had never seen one of these portfolios. He was thrilled to be holding one in his hands. He had studied art and art history as a young man, and knew what he was looking at.

We wanted time for people to read about it or be notified of it. They have auctions once a month, in fact, one coming up this weekend. Now, May's auction would include some higher end art pieces. We agreed that May struck us as the auction to go for. It would provide ample time for advertising and reach a better audience.

He went over the contract for us to sign. He placed the portfolio in an acetate envelope (it looks like clear plastic and is acid-free and will help protect the set).

Rick was excited about the story of Bob's receiving this set as a prize, and let me write the story.

He says he loves to have wonderful, old and famous paintings surrounding him, as he does there at Clars, so he feels they are his for a little while. It gave him much pleasure to see this portfolio. John and I were reminded of the words of the stamp collector in the movie "Charade" with Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant, when he returns the valuable stamps after the little boy had sold them by mistake: "Well, I am satisfied. For a few moments, they were mine. That was enough."

They are only "things."

Thank you, God for providing for me, though perhaps Bob never realized what he had on his shelf.

What's in YOUR closet?


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