August 1, 2014 at 1:00 am

Trash or Treasure?

Painting may be from Cranbrook's Wallace Mitchell

Much like people, antiques and art can migrate far from their original location. So while Sandy Daugherty purchased a small watercolor at a flea market in Ontario in the 1980s, she wasn’t surprised to learn later while doing a little Internet research that there was a possibility the artist was from Michigan. Looking to hopefully confirm that, she recently wrote to the column asking for help.

“Attached are photos of a small watercolor that is signed Mitchell and titled ‘Nocturne.’ I believe the artist is Wallace Mitchell, but this hasn't been confirmed. I recently made that assumption when I went to the Cranbrook Art Museum for an exhibit last year. There is a gallery downstairs, and there were several paintings by Wallace Mitchell, who is an Artist-in-Residence of Distinction at Cranbrook. I saw a very close resemblance in the signature of those paintings to the one I have. I read he lived from 1911-1977,” she wrote, asking for additional information about her piece.

Appraiser Brian Thomczek took a closer look at a Trash or Treasure session held recently at Judy Frankel, part of the Antiques Centre of Troy. Unfortunately, he wasn’t sure he could help her with definite attribution of her piece.

“There are a lot of Mitchells out there in the art market,” he told her. “It’s a very common name.”

He did say that the signature on the small watercolor of a creek was similar to some he found online attributed to Wallace Mitchell. Because of the style and the frame, he dated the piece to somewhere between the 1950s and 1960s, a time that could work with Wallace Mitchell’s working years. “I’d say this was done definitely after World War II but before the 1970s,” he told her.

The website has additional information on Wallace MacMahon Mitchell, who was born in Detroit in 1911. He later attended Hamilton College and Northwestern before studying at Cranbook under Zoltan Sepeshy and touring Europe. He created his MFA at Columbia University in New York in 1936. He was later employed at Cranbrook as a painting instructor from 1936 to 1954. He later served as director of the Cranbrook Academy of Art. His far-ranging work is featured in a variety of collections, including New York’s Guggenheim Museum.

Thomczek said she may be able to get definite attribution from Cranbrook. Unfortunately, even if it was done by the Cranbrook artist, it wouldn’t do much to increase the value. “This is a neat piece, but I don’t think there is a large demand for it,” he told her. “Generally, oils are much more desirable than watercolors.”

Thomczek appraised the piece at $150-$200 retail. “For this size and condition, that’s about what we would appraise it at, less if it were to go to auction,” he said. Daugherty wasn’t interested in selling her piece, she said, just interested in learning more about her find.

She was pleased with the information about her flea market find and its value, even if she didn’t get definite attribution for the piece. “I can’t remember how much I paid for it, but it was probably less than $10,” she told Thomczek.

About this object

Item: “Mitchell” watercolor

: Sandy Daugherty, Bloomfield Hills

Appraised by
: Brian Thomczek, independent appraiser

Estimated value: $150-$200 retail

Correction A previous version of this story included the wrong photograph.

Do you have an object you would like to know more about? Send a photo and description that includes how you acquired the object to: The Detroit News, Trash or Treasure?, 615 W. Lafayette Blvd., Detroit, MI 48226. Include your name and daytime telephone number. You may also send your photo and description to If chosen you’ll need to bring the items to an appraisal session. Photos cannot be returned.