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Council turns down $35,000 offer for oil painting

by Lynn Kutter | May 31, 2023 at 5:00 a.m.
Submitted photo This is the plaque on a painting by Edgar Alwin Payne that shows the painting was donated to the city of Prairie Grove by his widow, Elsie Palmer Payne, probably in 1862.

PRAIRIE GROVE -- An Edgar Alwin Payne oil painting donated to the city of Prairie Grove more than 60 years ago will remain with the community for now.

In a special meeting May 23, the city council voted 5-2 to decline an offer of $35,000 for the painting from a man in California. The offer expired at midnight.

"I would like to keep the painting," said council member Tony Cunningham said. "That's just me."

Cunningham made the motion to turn down the offer and council members Rick Ault, Doug Stumbaugh and Sue Cluck voted in favor of the motion. Council members Paula Ditmars and Rick Clayton voted against the motion. Chris Powell was absent from the meeting.

The council decided to seek public input on what to do with the painting at its May 15 meeting. Council members that night had different opinions on what to do with the painting.

These differing opinions were reflected by the community the next few days as citizens posted comments on the city's Facebook page answering the question of what to do with the painting, whether to sell it "as is" to the interested party, restore it and keep it, restore it and try to sell it later or just keep it in its damaged form.

Mayor David Faulk on May 15 gave council members an update on his research and discussions with a broker who had a client interested in purchasing the painting.

The city paid $450 for an appraisal by Shannon Mitchell with the International Society of Appraisers. Mitchell found the painting, an oil on canvas artwork called "Alpine Slopes" by Payne, to be valued at $12,000 "as is" in its present form and to be valued at $32,000 under the hypothetical condition of the painting being restored.

Mitchell examined the painting at the Art Emporium in Fayetteville in the presence of the proprietor, Greg Brockman, according to the appraisal report.

An undated article from the former Northwest Arkansas Times newspaper says Payne, who was born in Cassville, Mo., in 1883, decided to become a landscape painter at a young age and devoted his life to that. The painting has a connection to Prairie Grove because Payne spent part of his boyhood in Prairie Grove in the late 1800s. He traveled to California in 1909 and in 1918 made Laguna Beach his permanent home.

The painting was donated to the city of Prairie Grove by Elsie Palmer Payne, widow of Edgar Payne, probably in 1962 during a ceremony at the Latta Barn at the Prairie Grove Battlefield Park. The Woman's Club accepted the painting on behalf of the city at the ceremony and the article said the painting was to be on permanent display at the park.

Later, the park became part of the state park system and it was decided the painting did not belong in the park's museum because it was not related to the mission of the park. The painting was returned to the city and then relocated to the Women's Club building where it stayed for 19 years.

Payne's painting, "Alpine Slopes," was illustrative of his "romantic conception and vigorous execution of landscape painting," according to the newspaper article.

The appraisal report says the painting does not have a date on when it was finished and depicts a snowy alpine mountain scene under a blue sky with a small group of buildings or houses in the lower right foreground. The mountain landscape is not specifically identified but it's possible it may be a scene near Grindewald, Switzerland. Payne visited the Swiss and French Alps during 1922-23.

Prairie Grove officials did not know the city had the painting until they received a call in 2009 from an art gallery in San Francisco asking if the city still had the painting. After a search and some phone calls, the painting was discovered under some old papers in the Woman's Club Building on Neal Street.

According to the city's Facebook post, the city recovered the painting and crated it for safer storage. It was stored for some time at Arvest Bank and then later at City Hall. Now, it is in a crate at the Art Emporium.

Faulk said Brockman had a buyer who already owns many other paintings by Payne and offered to purchase "Alpine Slopes" as is for $35,000. This client would pay to ship the painting and to have it restored.

If the city wants to restore it and keep it or try to offer it for sale, the city's costs would be around $8,000, which includes shipping, insurance and restoration.

City council members were divided at their May 15 meeting. Several said sell it and use the money for some project, maybe an art-related or beautification project. Others thought the city should restore it and keep it because it was given as a gift to Prairie Grove.

Council member Brea Gragg made the suggestion to reach out to the public and seek input from citizens on what they think the city should do with the painting. She is the one who made the motion to seek public input. Her motion passed, 5-3, with Ditmars, Clayton and Powell voting against her motion.

Faulk last week said the council at some time will have to decide what to do with the painting.

  photo  Submitted photo This painting, "Alpine Slopes," by Edgar Alwin Payne, was given to the city of Prairie Grove about 60 years ago. Payne (1882-1947) spent part of his boyhood in Prairie Grove but lived most of his life in California.

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