Grand Ceremonial Bonfire?

Dear Artist, Recently, Herb Parsons of North Haven, Maine, USA wrote, “It has come to my attention that, at 75, I may not live forever. I recently sold my gallery/gift shop/studio of 28 years and, though my work has enjoyed a modestly steady market, I’m nonetheless faced with storing a lifetime of paintings, drawings and sculpture. How do artists deal with these unsold treasures? Must I face up to some sort of Grand Ceremonial Bonfire?” Thanks, Herb. From what I can see, most of your work is not for burning. Your plan should be to extend your work’s posthumous reach and value through an orderly and calculated distribution, both for the benefit of mankind and for your heirs. Here’s what you need to do: Take a hard look at your work and separate your substandard from your best. So they’re off the market forever, go ahead and have a private GCB for the baddies only. With a paragraph in your will, assign your painting estate to a key manager who is (ideally) a knowledgeable and trusted offspring or other caring family member — preferably of the next generation and not necessarily your executor. Also, request, with prior permission, the down-stream consultation (pricing, distribution, promotion) of two or three trustworthy art dealers or marketers who may be in a position to do something with your work. You may also suggest your key manager consult with others unknown to you. Your key manager, working with your executor, should have the power to release work in a timely manner — over a period of years, if necessary. Your elected dealers, to be effective, need to be given a certain amount of control, long-term security and monetary benefit. Appointing several dealers is preferable to just one. Your will should also stipulate that your key manager is also an heir and any distributions coming via him or her will be by a fore-ordained formula and for the benefit of all heirs. Many artists find this sort of planning difficult. Fact is, many artists leave an appalling mess — a disservice both to their art and their family. Herb — think about choosing a key manager, talk to potential dealers and see a lawyer to clarify your plan. In the meantime, store your art in a clean, dry place. Oh, and, by the way, get a larger space than you think you’ll need — over the next thirty years you may be adding even better work to your legacy. Best regards, Robert PS: “Age acquires no value save through thought and discipline.” (James Truslow Adams) Esoterica: You can gradually reduce your storage requirements by judiciously giving works to charities, fundraisers, friends and relatives. Don’t give anyone the idea you’re trying to get rid of things. Never, ever, in any circumstances have a clear-out, garage, or half-price sale. Your work has value and you need at all times to mete it out wisely and in a dignified manner.   Herb Parsons

“Jennings Island, Mill River II”
oil painting 16 x 64 inches


“Mill River, Autumn”
oil painting 10 x 66 inches


“Early Morning Sun, Mill River”
oil painting 9 x 48 inches

    No questions asked by Terry McIlrath, West Chester, PA, USA  

“The Random Patterns of Time”
mixed media, 14 x 14 inches
by Terry McIlrath

After cleaning out years of junk from family homes I decided to preempt the problem in my life. There were no lawyers, no executors, just happy friends. I piled years of experimental paintings and drawings along with good paintings that just never sold into a studio and told my mailing list to take what they wanted and leave me any amount of cash or a check in an unmarked envelope. No questions asked. I figured the work was more valuable out in the world where people would enjoy it than packed away in my studio. I received about 25% of the retail, created room for more paintings and my friends were thrilled. Many walked out with paintings they could never “afford” — my “OBO” sale. There are 5 comments for No questions asked by Terry McIlrath
From: Robyn Rinehart — Jan 24, 2013

What a nifty idea!

From: Patricia — Jan 25, 2013

I’m 72 and go to Senior Classes at the local college and all of us have joked about the paintings we have “under the beds, in the closets, behind doors and in garages and wondered what to do should in the event we depart to Heaven. Now we know, thank you. Always the Learning Artist, Patricia

From: William Band — Jan 25, 2013

Terry I read over the number of responses that you got about dealing with un-sold paintings. I am pushing 71 and the paintings are piling high. I like your idea. Pay what you can with no questions asked, and enjoy the creations. In the past, when someone is totally excited about one of my paintings, I almost give it away. I get more satisfaction seeing the reaction of the new owner.

From: Jane — Jan 25, 2013

Wonderful image!

From: Sherry — Jan 25, 2013

While I value my paintings, they are not considered valuable art by those in authority. I love the idea of giving them as gifts while still alive or giving them to a non profit group who values receiving smaller amounts of money at their fund raising events. If one other person sees a painting of mine and loves it, I would be happy that they could get it.

  Heirs Choose by Judy Swanson, Old Lyme, CT, USA  

“Lighthouse, Fenwick”
watercolour painting, 7 x 11 inches
by Judy Swanson

At age 73, I also have been thinking about what to do with my growing stack of paintings. I do not want to burden my heirs with having to dispose of all my attempts at being a painter and realize there may be some that they will want to keep for themselves. I am by no means a professional artist but think that some of my art is pretty good and shouldn’t be put on the trash fire. I have been considering that I would have my heirs choose what art they would like to keep for themselves, then take what is left to my memorial service and allow my friends and relatives to choose a piece of art for themselves as a memento. That would make me happy, thinking that when they see that piece of art on their wall they would think of me. There is 1 comment for Heirs Choose by Judy Swanson
From: Sue Johnson — Jan 25, 2013

Lovely idea.

  Colored stickers by Peter Pook, ON, Canada  

“Inside Franklin”
original painting
by Peter Pook

I would encourage senior painters to consider the following process for distributing their paintings to those in the family who would love to have them. Buy a bunch of different coloured circular sticky back labels and give a colour to each member of the family you want to give your goods to. Ask them to put one of their dots on the back of paintings they like when they visit you. We did this process with my late mother-in-law’s household goods. After her death we all gathered at her home and divided the property with the dots as our guide. It was amazing how many items had only one dot on it. Where there were two similar colored dots on the back, those two relatives took turns selecting from that pile. Where 3 or more dots were on a piece we asked the individuals to describe why that piece was special to them. Usually there was a compelling story from one of the relatives that made the rest of us comfortable that the piece belonged with them. These short stories also turned out to be a wonderful way for the family to share memories. Obviously, we all know families where this process would be difficult if not impossible to do, but for many I believe this is an excellent way to have your art be in the best of all museums… the homes of your extended family. There is 1 comment for Colored stickers by Peter Pook
From: Susan Avishai — Jan 25, 2013

When my mother died she left many beautiful pieces of her own artwork (and a bunch of mine). I photographed them all, put them on Flicker, and emailed them around to her grandchildren, saying they could start with 2 each. You were right, Peter — nearly everyone picked different ones. There was a bit of horse-trading for the ones that 2 people wanted, but it was smooth and generous-spirited. Once the best were picked, we went through the process again until everyone had what they wanted. Then I gave pieces to friends and (hardest of all) threw a lot of the less accomplished ones, my own included, out. It was heart-breaking work and I returned home determined to weed through my own. (It has yet to happen, alas. Hope I stay healthy for a while.)

  Two art collections by Brad Michael Moore, Perrin, TX, USA  

original painting
by Brad Michael Moore

This is always a favorite topic of mine – having images dating back to 1975. However, I have an additional issue to add to the top of Herb’s concern. Since 1970, I have slowly, consistently purchased, or bartered, for the art of others (Pen & Inks, Colored Pencil, photographs, oils & acrylic on canvas, and some 3-D pieces). So, I have two collections to deal with, both which may require different paths, unless I can use “My collection,” to sweeten a deal with a small museum to take my best works, and also get (presently a more valuable) International Collection of Artist’s works ranging from Abstract, to realism, from portrait to imaginary characters and worlds. I sold one of my earliest collected works when I broke my back in a cycling accident. I purchased it for $400.00 from the artist in 1984; last time I checked, several years ago, it was worth $40,000.00 at auction (artist & sitter, both passed away {[Trigger]}. That taught me, broke back or not, “Don’t sell art from your collection!!!” Also, it tells me I have an eye for art, and my collection (maybe 100 pieces presently) will certainly continue to become more and more valuable in my life and beyond. I guess I need to find the right kind of art lawyer who has vision beyond his or her craft to help me put something together. I hope to show my collection in the next couple years. Perhaps that will grow some interest. They are both art (mine and my acquired collection), but they are very different animals. I must give each of them direction during my life — perhaps create a “Living Will.”   Retrospective Exhibition/Auction by Anonymous   My plan: I have made a database of all my work, and have marked each piece as available or not. My will has a list of about 20 people to whom I give 1 piece of their choice from the available works on this list, along with the order in which they can choose. To save my executor (an old friend) the many possible hassles, I have given him the power to require that they (or their appointed agent) choose and pick up their piece in person within a certain time. Whatever work is not sold, I have asked that a retrospective exhibition and auction be held at the location of a well-known art auction house, and have included funds to cover the costs of the show, including preparation, repair, conservation, framing, and transportation of works, gallery rental, opening reception, publicity, etc. The entire proceeds of the auction will go to a non-profit art organization that I know and love. All unsold works are to be given to any charity or educational organization that can benefit from them, such as Good Will, Housing Works, schools, colleges, hospitals, etc.   Whittling down the numbers
by Louise Francke, NC, USA  

“Kestrel Watch”
original drawing
by Louise Francke

The quandary we reach as we cross the 70-year threshold. If we had a full creative life doing what we enjoyed, we probably have a studio full of art works which didn’t move out or returned home from exhibits. We each come to our own way of whittling down the number. An invitation came to help a fundraising exhibit to benefit a local wildlife association. Since a significant portion of my life has been dedicated to the endangered, wild, and domesticated animals, I feel it behooves me to give many works for the exhibit sale. Percentages for the artist are set by the artist. To support the causes I have followed throughout my life warms my heart. Along with this endeavor I also plan to have a special day for friends to come and pick out a hand-pulled print. My small oil paintings of animals in art historical sets remain in my private chamber of curiosities. I trust that my artist son will figure out how to deal with these. I have left several suggestions.   Focus on Living by Peter Waters, Burlington, ON, Canada  

“A Cool,Crisp Autumn Day”
acrylic painting
by Peter Waters

As an old banker, I found the advice given to be wise. However, at the same time I found Herb’s capitulation disconcerting, for unlike him, at 77, I have been aware for some time that I may not live forever. In light of this possibility, I have chosen quite a different route, “Grand Ceremonial Bonfire” be damned. That is, at least until November when the infamous Guy Fawkes can take over, complete with fireworks. Meantime, I am of the opinion that it is better to have fun and live than focus on the process surrounding one’s death. So, having been approached numerous times over the past year or two to show my work, I finally acquiesced. Ego won out, and I am having my first public showing in the form of a One Man Exhibition from January 15th through 27th of March. Quite unexpectedly, sales results, to date, are gratifying, having exceeded expectations. If Grandma Moses can do it, I, too, can give it a shot. A life-long dream has been realized, so I am far from lighting the match at present — I am on cloud nine. Let the rationale thinking wait. I suppose I will face the dogs that nobody wanted in due course, but as I said earlier, throw in a few fireworks next November and celebrate Bonfire Night, British style, and perhaps no one will notice and I can sneak off quietly into the night, having finally taken care of business. There are 3 comments for Focus on Living by Peter Waters
From: Nan — Jan 25, 2013

I can taste the air in your “Cool, Crisp Autumn Day.” Beautiful. Congratulations on your show. I hope you keep on keeping on.

From: mzeee — Jan 25, 2013

You rock! I love your story, your attitude, your painting! Keep on keeping on…and sneak off dancing!

From: Tatjana M-P — Jan 28, 2013

Great letter and painting!

  Try Local Galleries? by Christa Rossner, Vancouver Island, BC, Canada  

stone carving
by Christa Rossner

In addition to Robert’s thoughts there are some other options. Do you have a local, provincial or state art gallery who would like some of your pieces for their permanent assets and exhibits? Donating some pieces to them, you’d know they would be properly cared for and could be shared with the public who might recognize your painting sites or wish they had been there. Perhaps allowing your most admiring family members or dear friends choose what moves them at one-on-one tea or coffee dates would be a good way to know some of your work would be in appreciative hands/homes. Giving them some information on how to frame/store/protect the paintings might be a good idea. With the balance of your good, medium and less than stellar work, you could have an exhibit and sale (not as Robert says, at fire-sale prices, but at prices that appreciative non-collectors could manage to pay). I will never forget when Myfanwy Pavelic, one of our local but internationally known artists, was quite incapacitated by arthritis and ill, decided to open her studio to sell what was left of her works after dispensing many. She made it a stipulation that any collectors or gallery owners would be turned away. She said she “wanted to make her work available to the public who had supported and encouraged her over the years but who couldn’t afford to own a piece of her work at gallery prices.” As you can imagine it created quite a stir. Collectors were indignant and were seen (sunglasses and hats) in the crowd. Myfanwy sat regally on a stool and other places in her studio smiling and kindly, quietly answering people’s questions as a line of awe-struck, admiring people filed through and out the other side. Her niece and other friends took payment and people left with pencil sketches, fully fleshed out drawings, rough paintings and completed ones — some framed, some not; everyone feeling very privileged to have met her and feeling they’d had a glimpse of this beautiful artist’s creative world. More importantly they had paid for and could hang on their walls the work of a master — even if some of it wasn’t perfect.   Legacy of Artwork by Alex Nodopaka, Lake Forest, CA, USA  

“Love terrorist”
mixed media
by Alex Nodopaka

Definitely a worthy and lofty intent about the redistribution of one’s priceless artistic achievements. Unfortunately the likelihood is that the one passing away may be the only artist in the family and his leftovers will remain a burden unless there’s an already established value through auctions and recorded past sales. I furnish but 3 examples of how to handle such cases. My dear friend’s wife passed away leaving a legacy of artwork piled high. Her husband, also an artist in his own right, was overwhelmed by the legacy but for a year, on and off, he buckled down at the expense of his own artwork and collected all the loose sheets and drawn envelopes and canvases and sculptures and put them all together in several books that he gave away to his and her relatives and close friends. Some years later he himself passed away and his son contacted me for help. My advice to him was and still is to choose his own path of either servicing his father’s legacy for a while but not at the expense of his own and for his father’s to be only a past-time hobby when he, the son, had time on his hands.    

Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Grand Ceremonial Bonfire?

From: Good Timing. — Jan 22, 2013

How timely a subject. I have just begun the process of forming a Trust for this very purpose. It can get complicated, but doesn’t have to be. And, it’s a good vehicle to formulate your objectives, and to protect that of your work you feel is worth passing on to posterity. I will probably include some stuff that should be destroyed, but but some of that maybe shouldn’t be of my decision. I have learned that you need to put some sort of “value” to each piece, in order to “fund” it into the Trust. That value can be as minimal to as outlandish as you see fit. Let posterity decide the truth. The idea is to just get it under some sort of legal protection. And a trust is a far more protective instrument than a will, for instance. Although it is possible to “do it yourself”, there are too many potential pitfalls to be certain. I have decided to “start it myself’, get it as complete as thorough as I need, then let an attorney review and, if necessary, edit it. I do caution you, however, to NOT register the Trust with your state or other political entity. In these money hungry times, the governments are now trying to take as much from as many places and opportunities as possible. And there is NOTHING that states you must register or turn over control of your Trust to any legal authority other than what you devise. In short: See an attorney! (And don’t let him overcharge you. It shouldn’t be that expensive, if you’ve already done your homework.) I’d like to see more artists do this. Might also protect your legacy from the “now that he’s dead, his stuff is worth a lot more” abuse by the dealer/collection industry knaves. If it IS suddenly worth more, then your beneficiaries should get the benefit of that, not some dealer who said he didn’t like it all those years… Good luck, and good hunting !

From: Trust Tips — Jan 22, 2013

Further things to consider: Protect not just your works, but also such things as reproduction rights. etc. (Here a few ideas) Proceeds from leasing, exhibiting, etc., shall inure to the benefit of the Trust. High Quality Prints, Authorized Copies, are Sale-able. Image use licensing, from time to time, as appropriate. Alternative media, such as electronic file copies, hard copy publications, such as periodicals and books, and other means of image storage and transfer may from time to time be licensed, as appropriate. As opportunity. Proceeds from the use of the artworks and related assets, as generated by licensing agreements, or by any means or methods, whatsoever, shall inure to the benefit of the Trust. Art works and other related assets not produced by, but owned by the Artist, under the Trust. may be held, sold, transferred, or from time to time, be purchased for the speculative economic benefit of the Trust and/or its beneficiaries. Funds held in the Trust may be from time to time be distributed to the beneficiaries, according to terms and methods to be decided. Qualified Asset Management, Legal Services, Arts Related, and other professional services may be hired or contracted, as from time to time becomes appropriate.

From: John Kelley — Jan 22, 2013

Familiarity breeds contempt…. well maybe not contempt, but it does seem to lessen perceived value. After John Singer Sargents death his sisters quickly put the contents of his studio up for sale only to try and buy much of it back months later. Apparently “cleaning up the mess” momentarily blinded their eyes to the value of what their brother had left them. Great article.

From: Tyrone Phelps Whittingsley — Jan 22, 2013

Mr. Parsons, you have such an intractable problem that I am moved to offer you some storage space on my walls, gratis. Do you need my address?

From: Rodney Mackay — Jan 22, 2013

At the age of 78, I now know you can’t depend upon Death to relieve you of mortal woes. It is not a great art market today as was once the case (50 years ago). That is a problem is, thankfully, for the young, vigorous and strange. As for me, all is arranged, so I am going on to a new career involving computers and will paint purely for fun. If I did complete any “significant work” it was between 1972 and 1992. When things look a bit seedy one needs to retire. Some of my contemporaries struggle on, but I think they are ill-advised.

From: Carol Morrison — Jan 22, 2013

A concern voiced by a local artist is that the value of any unsold paintings is taxable to the estate of the artist, which very much reduces the value of the artist’s estate unless they can be sold. Do you have any information on this?

From: Helen Opie — Jan 22, 2013

Re our art work after we die: according to a VANS (Visual Arts NS) symposium I attended a few years ago, if you leave works to people but do not give them to these people before you die and do not write on the back of the painting something to the effect of “Painted especially for Mariah Doe”, then it will be included as part of your estate for taxing, and the less that is there, the better for your heirs. I am turning 80 soon and have begun to give some paintings to people I especially want to have something because I know they’ll appreciate it. Out of my house, and I am glad this person is getting something they like. On another note; I am beginning to solve my storage problem by letting a few nearby friends store my work on their walls. I have made it clear that should I die while a painting of mine is on their wall, they are to consider it a gift and keep it. Never let it into my estate. My executor and my gallery will deal with the rest of my estate, both of whom I trust. I may add another non-executor in case something happens to this one.

From: Helene Cliche — Jan 22, 2013

I think that all we put in our paintings should be shared. There so many people bored in need of some .. inspiration, why not go to the ones in need and share a part of us? I am thinking of Old Age Center and sick people..

From: Bela Fidel — Jan 22, 2013

I have contacted a charity I support and exchanged e-mails, indicating that my output would be theirs at the time of my demise. I have indicated that in my Trust. However, nothing has been clarified as to pricing, sales, etc. as I am planning to stick around for a while and prices could change, etc. I fear that, upon receipt of a truckload of artwork, they will, first, not store it properly; not know how to sell it and thus miss the opportunity to fully take advantage of my donation. I wonder how a better control and designation could be achieved?

From: Carrie Givens — Jan 22, 2013

I’ll have to reiterate to my husband the quote, “that I am not going to have a half price sale sign in the front yard.” He keeps telling me he knows how to sell my art that is building up in our home. He is very good at selling vegetables, since he is a farmer, but I wont trust him with my artwork. I win awards for my work and it even sells from time to time, slowly it is getting better.

From: Edna V. Hildebrandt — Jan 22, 2013

To think of a ceremonial bonfire for works of art sounds very nerving. I do not know how to deal with it. Works of art is the artists’ creations perhaps regarded valuable as if it were a part of us and perhaps as children.Could we really burn them?

From: Jackie Knott — Jan 22, 2013

Mr. Parsons, your work is exceptional and I wouldn’t consider any of these featured paintings worthy of a bonfire. Robert’s advise is spot on … and don’t stop painting until you can’t hold a brush anymore.

From: Judi Pedder — Jan 23, 2013

Yes, the “end of life” plans should, for artists, include plans for the art, and also for the accumulation of files, portfolios, financial records, web sites, photos, backup, etc, not to mention supplies, books and videos. Same should be said for collections of art, stamps, coins etc. You may already know the following advise from my lawyer: Our lawyer warned me NOT to include a list or mention of my art work in my Will. The reason was/is that if the art is mentioned in a Will, each piece must by law be appraised by a qualified person, to assess current value before it could be distributed or sold. While this may, if your work stands to bring substantial amounts of money, be the right way to go for the average artist it would mean much delay and expenditure (storage?) before anything could actually happen to it. As I have, currently. no family on Vancouver Island or even in BC, this would be most inconvenient. Its quite OK to make a list and to offer your ideas of what should happen to your work, and other related possessions. In fact it would be helpful to do that in the hope that your wishes will be followed. In the same manner, requests can be listed that “each grandchild receive paintings of their choice” or “I’d like my friend …….. to choose a piece of my art” etc. I’d like (number) of my paintings to be donated to “….” Reaching the age when I’m “downsizing” to make life easier for whomever has the job, I have also requested that remaining books, supplies etc shall be donated to “….” for fundraising. Portfolios, photos etc should be retained somewhere until 50 years after I’m gone – but then, I won’t be around to advise or control that part!

From: Joy J. Rotblatt — Jan 23, 2013

I am faced with a similar problem. My storage space is quite full. Thanks for the estate plan. I am going to try to come up with a person who will take on the responsibility of being a key manager. Meanwhile I have to get rid of paintings I don’t think are up to my standards as you have suggested. Don’t know of any dealers who would be willing to price my work, but I will look for one.

From: Keith Thirgood — Jan 24, 2013
From: Wendy Ingram — Jan 24, 2013

I am the Acting Director of The Art Connection-RI, a nonprofit whose mission is to connect artists with public service nonprofits through the permanent placement of donated works of art. We often work with senior artists as their careers are winding down to help them and/or their families find a home for their art where it will be appreciated and enrich the lives of those who don’t otherwise have access to art. More information about our organization is attached. Please contact The Art Connection-RI if you would like more information or if we can be of assistance in finding a home for one or more of your art works. (Mr Parsons–I travel to Camden/Rockport several times a year, so transportation would not be a problem.) The Art Connection-RI Providence, RI 02906 Weblog: 401-351-0463, 617-304-1521(cell)

From: Ellen Cosgrove — Jan 24, 2013
From: RonGrauer — Jan 24, 2013

Hey guys and gals, I turned 85 last November and I’m planning a celebration in 14 years and 10 or so months. At 100, I want a pretty lady, hopefully my sweet wife Loii, on my arm, a cigar between what teeth that are able to hold it, a Mai Tai in my other hand and in my pocket an agreement that I will concoct from this wonderful article. Thank you Robert Genn.

From: Russ Hogger — Jan 24, 2013

I’ve been an artist all my life and have a lot of my unsold paintings sitting in my basement studio. Apart from that I still have to keep on painting. Over the years I’ve thrown out quite a few that didn’t turn out,but haven’t decided yet what to do with the rest of them before I vacate the planet. I would like to donate them to a charity. However I will still look into some of the suggestions on this site. Thanks Robert.

From: Beth Kurtz — Jan 25, 2013

I’d like to add to all of this the possibility of giving works you don’t consider your best — but which don’t deserve the bonfire — to an organization such as Good Will, Salvation Army, or Housing Works. I have often, in cleaning the studio or moving donated a pile of things to Housing Works, and returned the next day to find all of them sold — at prices from about $35 down. I calculated that my donation to this one organization now amounts to hundreds of dollars, and somebody is somehow enjoying works of mine that might otherwise never have seen the light of day.

From: Marilyn Juda-Orlandi — Feb 02, 2013

I too have wondered what is going to happen to my work when I get to the end of my path…what I have decided is this…weed out the mediocre works….I don’t want to be remembered by them….then I plan to leave a painting of choice to each of my relatives, starting with the youngest first, that is to say, the children of nieces and nephews, then proceeding by age ….paintings that remain in the family, down the generations, are most likely to be well kept and appreciated…then what is left I would like to donate to hospitals and emergency waiting rooms….a beautiful painting that can take your mind off pain and troubles even for a few minutes is a treasure for so many people….

    Featured Workshop: Donald Jurney
012513_robert-genn Donald Jurney workshops Held in England and France   The Workshop Calendar provides up-to-date selected workshops and seminars arranged in chronological order. 

Dunes of Victor

acrylic painting, 12 x 16 inches by Mike Barr, Australia

  You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013. That includes Tyrone Oude of Capetown, South Africa, who wrote, “I don’t intend to plan for anything. George Burns said, ‘I’m not going to die, it’s been done.’ ”    

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