Treasure: Tracking down creator of oil paintings
Now part of the area known today as Midtown, the Cass Corridor was home to a number of artists in the 1960s and gave rise to what later became known as the Cass Corridor movement. Chris McDonald recently brought in works she was hoping were part of that esteemed tradition, showing them to appraiser Brian Thomczek at the Michigan Design Center.
“We purchased these pictures in 1968 at Borzoi Gallery in Detroit,” she wrote in his original email. “We were told they were done by Ron Walford in 1967, an artist who we think may have worked in the Cass Corridor area. We would like to know more about them and the artist.”
She filled the appraiser in on a little more background at the recent event. “The gallery has two Russian wolfhounds, so we figured that is where the name came from,” she explained. “We used to visit a lot.”
The appraiser remarked on the paintings’ medium and condition before getting into subject matter and value. “These are oils on canvas and they are nicely done and framed,” the appraiser remarked at first glance.
The McDonalds knew little about the artist, other than what they remembered from the purchase almost 50 years ago. They purchased the first — “What Do We Do After the Wailing Stops?” — in 1968, Chris said, and had wondered if the title and work was a comment on the downtown unrest of 1967. “We have long wondered if the title and the work was a reaction to the event,” she says. They purchased the other at a later point.
A tag on them has information that refers to the “International Art Center” and an address on Madison Street in Detroit. A Google search revealed newspaper clippings from the 1970s with references to both the International Art Center and Ron Walford with references to galleries and the Detroit art scene at the time, but little more. It also listed a reference to Walford Studios in Warren, where we tracked down the artist.
Walford, now 78, said he worked in Detroit near Greektown in the 1960s and 1970s, but was not a part of the Cass Corridor artists. “I knew some of them,” he said. He studied at the Detroit Society of the Arts and Crafts (predecessor of the College for Creative Studies) and worked with both the Borzoi and the Detroit Artists Market in the 1960s and 1970s. No longer working in oil, he has turned to photography and still finds inspiration in the city.
He no longer exhibits through any gallery, he says, but is still a working artist and keeps a studio in Warren. He still sells an occasional piece. “Contact me and if I’m in a good mood, I’ll sell something,” he says with a laugh.
Thomczek said that comparables are generally used to assign an auction or retail value, which makes it more difficult to appraise works such as the oils the McDonalds brought. Despite this, he thinks each would be worth $150-$250 at auction. “They have an abstract feel that would appeal to collectors and are very nicely done.”
The McDonalds have long had the pieces hanging in their home and remember paying $125 each. They are considering selling. “They doubled in value, so that’s not too bad,” says the appraiser.
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 email@example.com. If chosen you’ll need to bring the items to an appraisal session. Letters are edited for style and clarity. Photos cannot be returned.
Item: Oils on canvas
Owned by: Chris McDonald
Appraised by: Brian Thomczek
Estimated value: $150-$250 each at auction