My Mom's not an art aficionado —she’s more of a human exclamation point that energetically beams when she sees someone or something that catches her attention. She loves adjectives and quoting lines from her favorite prayers. “Thy will be done and Glory be to the Father.” The artwork installed throughout our suburban ranch was tag sale chic. A painting of the Infant of Prague hung in the foyer, blessing our home and our family. The Phantom ship, a naval motif, graced the wall of our dining room and haunted me for many of my formative years. There was also a limited edition Picasso print in the living room, on loan from Aunt Fifi and has since been returned. The kitchen cabinets were reserved for finger paintings, school calendars and an Irish blessing. “May the wind always be at your back”.
My Mother’s first cousin Sheila lived at 34 Gramercy Park in Manhattan with her husband, two daughters and their dog Caesar. They were our cool relatives. Shortly after completing the renovation of their apartment they invited our family for a cocktail party. When we arrived the guests were already jam packed inside the living room and dining room. My Father brought in a tray of Swedish meatballs and a vat of homemade marinara sauce. Mom carried in a glazed bundt cake (still in the pan). I held the wine bottles, a mouth full of braces and a bad perm. My brothers ran into my cousin’s room and played Pac-Man while Dad b-lined for the bar. My sister and I marched around the buffet table smiling and skewering cubed cheese as my country bumpkin self struggled to appear confident.
I went into the kitchen and asked what I could do to help. Sheila introduced me to Diane Lane who was a year younger than me, but looked like she had never felt awkward a day in her life. Then I was re-introduced to Rupert Hitzig who had recently produced a western movie called Cattle Annie and Little Britches. Ms Lane was one of the leads. Just before I could announce to Rupert that I’d been riding horses since grammar school, I caught my Mother in the corner of my eye. She was sitting on a white divan next to the fireplace with her legs crossed and her arms dancing as a skinny man with white hair and large black glasses was laughing out loud while drawing on a paper plate. Weeks later the mysterious plates were mailed to our house professionally framed.
For eight years it hung directly across from the toilet in my parents master bathroom. The wooden frame was a pale honey color encasing the two white paper plates. Challenged with chronic IBS symptoms, I would sit for long periods of time scrutinizing the bizarre etchings and wondering what exactly my Mother revealed to Mr. Warhol the day he drew those two pictures for her.
Moving out of our childhood home was an epic purging. The hall closets were crammed with ornaments, old shoes, record albums, tennis rackets, unopened mail and board games. The basement was a 2,000 square ft receptacle for every holiday, broken toy and a mothball infused cedar closet. There was no looking back. Mom was on a mission to rid herself of everything useless, cumbersome and meaningless. Warhol didn't make the cut. No-one remembers when she actually tossed it, but she did remark on how “ those drawings were done in poor taste, why do you think they hung in the bathroom!” Okay Mom, tell that to Michael Fried, the renown Modern art critic that firmly believes “of all the painters working today in the service—or thrill—of a popular iconography, Andy Warhol is probably the most single-minded and the most spectacular. At his strongest—and I take this to be the Marilyn Monroe paintings—Warhol has a painterly competence, a sure instinct for vulgarity (as in his choice of colors) and a feeling for what is truly human and pathetic in one of the exemplary myths of our time.”
The paper plate drawings our Mother considered to be vulgar were spontaneous character sketches of our paternal Grandfather, Poppy. Mom apparently had disclosed our family history to Mr. Warhol. My grandfather was the chief of Police in New Haven, so Warhol cleverly sketched Poppy in full uniform, with a Billy club and pistol sitting on a chair spanking the bottom of a scantily clad lady of the night. The other plate was a vignette of our grandfather handcuffing some naughty gals. Had our parents known that the drawings were:
1. A historically significant piece of art.
2. Copies made from it would be of inferior quality.
3. There was no alternative, public domain or free-copyrighted replacement available.
4. It was a signed and dated work of art.
Perhaps, they would have put it in a safe for their retirement. After doing some appraisal research, it seems as though there is an Andy Warhol Napkin Drawing from 1983 carrying a value 0f $20,000-$30,000. The London Times once reported that Andy Warhol’s 1963 Green Car Crash painting was forecasted to break auction records and sell for $35 million (£17.5 million) at Christie’s art auction house in New York. The winning bid at auction is expected to far exceed the previous record for the artist, which was established at Christie’s New York in November 2006 when Warhol’s iconic Mao, 1972, was purchased for $17.4 million.
The things my Mother recalls from her 15 minutes with Mr.Warhol :
1. “He was a practicing Catholic, but very private about it.”
2. “ He volunteered in homeless shelters.”
3. “He hated people with a sense of entitlement.”
4. “He was shy.”
My siblings and I are masterminding a covert operation to investigate every landfill within 10 miles of our childhood home. Who knows, the lost Warhol may be hanging inside of a trailer next to a junkyard dog. Our family heirloom is beckoning us to recover it and find out what it’s worth.