I manipulate metals and minerals and bonding solutions in order to provoke emotional responses from people I will usually never meet. That which happens in the process some people call art. My talent for creating icons and illusions turned into a lifetime of manipulations... in various pigments, bronze and steel, some quite large, which loom in museums, schools, collections and public places all over Texas. Here on this blog you can watch my creative actions and insights unfold...

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Find That Kept On Giving!

 Back when Linda used to enjoy my adventures (close to 40 years ago!) we used to go “pickin” (as in American Picker) up around Denton County where we lived at the time. One time I got permission to rummage in a time-capsuled estate after a Saturday morning yard sale. We had a blast going through a long-abandoned pre-war doctor's residence on the outskirts of Denton, finding some real treasures which I still have today. I found a pristine NuGrape bottle from the 1920's, just laying on top the ground. Linda found some human remains... We were digging around the base of an old collapsed out-building and it popped up out of the dirt.. she says sweetly, proud of her college knowledge..."I know what that is.. that's a human mandible!" 

No wonder she lost her enthusiasm for picking! It was that kind of once-in-a-lifetime pristine, bones-in-the-closet opportunity. Among our finds from the very same pile was a large stack of 1905-1915 Delineator magazines. We spent countless hours later in our little cottage going through them and discarding the buggy, raggedy parts. We set back a few nice old color magazine ads to do something with them “some day.” 

 We especially liked the old Post Toasties ads. And my favorite was a southwestern scene... A Navajo Indian tying down a huge crate of Kellogg's Corn Flakes on his pack burro. I really loved that thing, and we had it framed later. Sadly it was destroyed in one of our moves over the years... later I saw that the same advertisement had been used to decorate a collector's tin. It was a classic piece of Americana.

 In a bizarre twist, cereal magnate and the major competitor of Kellogg's, C. W. Post purchased the painting and not surprisingly had the artist paint over the offensive Kellogg's logo... You can't make this stuff up! Post was reportedly quite fond of the painting from then on...

So when I was asked to appraise a southwestern painting a year or so ago I did so with particular interest... since nowadays I have established myself somewhat as a southwestern artist... An elderly couple was getting rid of “stuff” and needed to know values... I loved the painting but it was by an unfamiliar artist and was in bad need of restoration. That is something that “I used to do,” but since then have grown more respect for the restoration  profession and gladly deferred to them.

Unfortunately, the couple did not choose to take my advice and have it restored... and I ended up purchasing it myself recently at a local consignment shop. I had looked up the painting before but nothing had rung a bell... had even sent photos to galleries in New Mexico where the name might mean something. The artist was New York born Harold Betts, a member of a family of accomplished artists.

 Harold Betts and his brother Edwin did the illustrations for a novel about the Aztecs called Prince Izon.

Harold Betts was born in New York City in 1881, into a family of artists. His father Edwin Daniel Betts Sr. was an accomplished painter, as were several of Harold's siblings, the most famous being Louis Betts. But Harold was the one drawn to the American West, beginning annual pilgrimages in 1906. He often left his home in Chicago to search for inspiration in New Mexico and Arizona, being a regular visitor at the Hubbell Trading Post in Ganado, Arizona around 1909 when the painting in question was executed. His works found a proud home in private collections at the Hubbell Trading Post, the Smithsonian and not surprisingly, the Santa Fe Railroad bought up most of his works.
Still, with all that pedigree, there were no responses to my solicitations. But then, the thing was in pretty bad shape...

Feeling something nagging about the painting, I went ahead and bought it... and after I purchased the painting I decided to bring it back to life... what could it hurt? Here is the result...

STUNNING! Another  version of "Santo Domingo Trading Post " by Harold Betts, now restored.

After I worked on it several days, replacing the tiny flecks that had been lost to time, I once again looked up the artist... I knew he was H. Betts- Harold H. Betts from the Midwest and he was a transient member of the Taos School around the turn of the last century. And after much more searching on the Internet I found that he was the artist of... that ad I had loved in the 1910 Delineator Magazine! In fact the artist had also been published by the Harvey House restaurant franchise and Betts had seen his work sent out on countless Post Cards emanating from the American Southwest. 

"Santo Domingo Trading Post" by H. Betts

And in fact one such painting they published was a close sister to mine... painted the same year- 1909, and helps me know the location of my painting... . Except mine is far more beautiful! So TWICE the work of an obscure artist crossed my path... caught my eye... and came home with me... There are few people today who know or care about Harold Betts besides art appraisers... but now in my collection his legacy will be told for future generations... I guess I should never have touched it... maybe I ruined the value and... it won't matter then if I just keep it! 

But something tells me that someday I will not be able to afford to turn down what this thing is worth...

A painting by H. Betts...

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