Treasure: Value of bird painting is aesthetic appeal

Khristi Zimmeth
Special to The Detroit News

Bird lovers have long “flocked” to images of their winged friends, making them popular subjects in the world of art and collectibles. Among the most valuable are those executed by John James Audubon, who chronicled many bird varieties in the 19th century.

Mark Cichewicz and Michael Grillo of Shelby Township are among those who appreciate images of birds. One caught their eye not long ago at a local resale store. “Michael and I were in Utica one Sunday afternoon shortly after the Barn resale shop opened,” Mark wrote in his letter to the column. “We fell in love with the painting. It’s an oil with heavy glazing…we also think there may be some connection to DuMouchelles because of the initials on the back.”

They filled expert Brian Thomzek in on more details about their purchase at a recent appraisal session held at Judy Frankel Antiques, part of the Antiques Centre of Troy. “We saw the painting and really liked it so we grabbed it,” they told the appraiser. The painting’s owners and appraiser identified the image of an indigo bunting among blackberry and raspberry bushes. It’s signed “Tyone,” a signature and artist whose name didn’t ring any bells with the appraiser.

The appraiser said the work does resemble that of Martin Johnson Heade (1819-1904), an American painter known, among other things, for his depictions of tropical birds. The son of a Pennsylvania storekeeper, he studied with Edward Hicks and spent some time in Europe. He later moved to Florida, where he was known for landscapes and flowers; his work is in a number of museums. His work has also turned up at antiques shops and garage sales in the past few years; some has been sold to high-profile museums for staggering profits.

Unfortunately for Cichewicz and Grillo, their work may have been influenced by Heade, but it wasn’t painted by him. The pair said they paid $130 for the painting, a price which Thomczek says was fair for the materials and quality. He dated the work to the late 19th or early 20th century. “It’s quite decorative, and the frame alone is worth $100 to $200, so I’d value the entire piece at $300-$500 in a retail setting, still a fair bit more than what you paid.”

Thomczek said he didn’t think the initials connected the piece to the downtown auction house. He did recommend a good cleaning, which he said would make a big difference in how the piece looks. “Cleaning would make the colors really pop,” he said. Cichewicz and Grillo said they’d consider making the investment. “We like it… it looks really good in our dining room.”

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?, 160 W. Fort St., 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. Letters are edited for style and clarity. Photos cannot be returned.

About This Item

Item : Oil on canvas

Owned by : Mark Cichewicz and Michael Grillo, Shelby Township

Appraised by : Brian Thomczek, independent appraiser

Estimated value : $300-$500 retail