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N.C. in N.H.: Rare Wyeth painting found in thrift store to be auctioned off for $250,000

One of four illustrations that N.C. Wyeth created for an edition of Helen Hunt Jackson’s novel “Ramona” in 1939.Press Bonhams/Bonhams Skinner

Next time you’re out antiquing, take a closer look at that stack of dusty old frames in the corner. You might just nab a rare N.C. Wyeth original mixed in with the bric-a-brac.

That’s what happened to a woman while browsing through a Savers thrift store in Manchester, N.H., in August 2017, according to a spokesperson for Bonhams Skinner auction house in Marlborough. Now, six years later, Bonhams Skinner is set to auction off the painting by the prolific artist, and they expect it to fetch as much as $250,000 in September.

The woman, who requested through Bonhams Skinner to remain anonymous, had been rifling through a stack of old frames at Savers in search of items to upcycle. The Wyeth was stuck in among otherwise “damaged posters and prints,” the spokesperson said, and although the woman didn’t recognize the painting, she purchased it for $4. Bonhams Skinner told the Globe that the woman “joked about it being a real painting,” but eventually lost interest after an internet search failed to provide any information.

The painting reportedly spent a few years hanging in her bedroom before winding up in a closet until she rediscovered it while cleaning this past May. This time, she posted images of it to a Facebook page called Things Found in Walls, a place to post “stories of things you have found in walls, dug up in your backyard, or in that abandoned house across the street from your grandma’s,” where it eventually came to the attention of Lauren Lewis, an independent conservator based out of Rockland, Maine, and former curator of several N.C. Wyeth shows at the Farnsworth Museum. Lewis had been working with Wyeth family paintings since 1998, when she took a job at the Farnsworth’s Wyeth Study Center, and has dealt extensively with the artworks of all three generations of Wyeth painters, including N.C.’s son, Andrew, and grandson, Jamie.


In an email to the Globe, Lewis said she was interested in learning more about the piece and offered the owner a consultation on the painting’s condition. When the two met in New Hampshire, Lewis carefully examined it and compared it to a reproduction. It didn’t take long before she was “99 percent certain that it was authentic,” she said.


“My assessment of the condition was that, while it certainly had some small scratches and it could use a surface clean, it was in remarkable condition considering none of us had any idea of its journey over the last 80 years,” Lewis said.

To be extra cautious, Lewis spoke with Christine Podmaniczky, the preeminent scholar on Wyeth’s work, who agreed that it was “likely the original,” Lewis said.

Though he left behind thousands of paintings when he died in 1945, N.C. Wyeth, born in Needham in 1882, was primarily known for his illustrations, which were regularly published in periodicals and novels of his time. This work that will soon be going to auction dates back to 1939, one of four illustrations that he created for a new edition of Helen Hunt Jackson’s novel “Ramona” (1884). Bonhams Skinner’s specialists noted that the frame on the painting “seems to be of the artist’s choice,” with a basic molding used to protect the edges and corners when sent by train from Wyeth’s Chadds Ford, Pa., studio to his publishers in Philadelphia or New York.


The unwitting woman who rescued the original from Savers was “thrilled” with what she’d found, “but also a bit overwhelmed,” Lewis recalled.

Bonhams Skinner estimated that publishers Little, Brown and Company gifted the work to an editor or to the estate of the author.

Noting that it’s only the second image of the four originals in this series to have been located, Lewis called this discovery “a very exciting find,” adding that she hopes the purchaser “will be willing to exhibit the painting so others can see it in the original!”

Emma Glassman-Hughes can be reached at Follow her @eglassmanhughes.