Trash or Treasure: 'Bronze' bust has surprising material and classic subject

By Khristi Zimmeth
Special to The Detroit News
Elaine Fontana with her bust of a mother and child.

 “It’s a special treasure of mine,” C. Elaine Fontana wrote in her email to the column about one of her favorite possessions – a bust of a mother and child. “It was given to me by my aunt and it is my understanding it was brought here from Italy.  It is approximately 19" tall, quite heavy for its size and I do not know what material it is.  Have been wanting to know if it is of any value.  It does have an almost unseen crack along the back of the neck.  The faces of both mother and child are beautiful, and I do treasure it.”

She filled appraiser Brian Thomczek in on additional details during a recent appraisal session at the Michigan Design Center.

“It was at my aunt’s and I told her how much I liked it so she gave it to me. She’s from Sicily but unfortunately I don’t have any information about it. I inherited it about 15 years ago and have always loved the faces," she said.

Thomczek surprised her with information about the material it’s made of. “This is made to look like bronze but is actually terra cotta. It’s an early 20th-century bust that is mainly decorative and unfortunately, unsigned. It’s a classic subject and has a lot of appeal,” he said, adding that there were a lot of similar works in a variety of mediums coming out of Italy at the turn of the century destined for the decorative market.

Unfortunately, it does have some damage, including a small crack in the back that would bring the value down. “But it’s a classic subject and one with a perennial appeal,” he added, valuing the piece at between $200 and $300 at auction. “It would probably sell for between $350 and $400 in an antique shop.”

“Keep it and enjoy it if you like it,” he advised. “It’s very nice and you don’t see work like this often today.”

Fontana likes to think and wonder about how the piece came to be in the United States. “It’s very heavy, so I don’t know how she could have brought it in a suitcase,” she mused.

Thomczek said the piece could be restored, but the cost might be prohibitive given the lower value. Fontana said she would probably restore it either way.

“I love it, so it’s definitely worth it,” she replied.

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: Terra cotta bust

Owned by: C. Elaine Fontana

Appraised by: Brian Thomczek

Estimated value at auction: $200 to $300