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What’s it worth?

By on November 24, 2020 in Arts with 0 Comments
Jerry’s walls are covered in his favorite paintings in several media, not all of them landscapes and western scenes like these that are his specialty. His home serves as his gallery, archive, library and office. Photo by Mike Irwin

The question is easy to ask, but for art appraiser Jerry Goroski, the answer takes some work

By Susan Lagsdin

Not all “old stuff” stories turn out this well (if they did, Antiques Road Show would lack suspense). But Wenatchee art appraiser Jerry Goroski told this good luck story:

A Chicago woman inherits from her mother an unopened box of her grandmother’s belongings. She sends a few nice pencil sketches, with scribbling on the back, to Jerry. “Are these really worth anything?”

They’re odd drawings: one is a cowboy standing on a train car, watching cattle pour out; one is cattle milling around the train car. The initials at the bottom of both were “CMR.”

Jerry does his work; due diligence means deep research. He’s helped by the notes on the back, written in grandmother’s hand. They describe her visit as a child to her dad’s work at the train yard where she spotted a young cowboy named Charlie, who was transporting cattle to market and journaling the scene. He handed the sketches to the girl (grandma), who tucked them away and saved them.

The Chicago woman is pleased. Much later, those two original drawings by the early 20th Century’s preeminent celebrity western artist Charles Marion Russell sell at auction for $15,000.

Yeah, they’re worth something.

Counter that with the emailed photo of a supposed Frederick Remington painting. “How can you tell it’s a forgery?” asked the disappointed owner. “Because I know exactly where the original is hanging,” Jerry replied.

Not all appraisal adventures are as thrilling, or as simple. On his office desk is a plastic folder, ready to mail, an example of his bread-and-butter work.

It’s a detailed, bulleted explanation augmented with copies of declarations, photos, notarized documents, lists and letters, deeds and checks and handwritten journal pages. It’s 37 pages long and cost the client $350. The upshot? Yes, the bronzes you showed me are worth owning. 

Jerry’s office contains an extensive library of art books, which he uses, with the help of the internet, to pinpoint information about any notable artist you’d find in a museum or gallery. He loves to talk about art and has made a gallery of his home, where the walls are covered in carefully curated, framed works, mostly western scenes or landscapes.

He owns “about 200” original artworks but said he rarely rotates them. “I know what I like — and these have always been my favorites.” He’s pan-generic in his tastes, with Remington and Russell his best-known career specialties.

The American West is in Jerry’s blood. He was born, raised (and educated in a one-room schoolhouse) near a far eastern Montana junction so small that its closest towns are probably unfamiliar to you.

He learned construction from his dad, and Montana State University in Bozeman brought him close to an engineering career until he switched to an art major. Ironically, he delved into an antique form that fascinated him — stone lithography — while garnering then cutting-edge graphics skills that would support a soon-to-be family.

For six years at the Buttrey Foods home office in Great Falls, Jerry laid out grocery store ads (“Not just prices,” he said wryly. “At holidays I did bunny rabbits and Santa Clauses.”) He also landed a part-time building job, which included long conversations about art, for the director of the Charles M. Russell Museums. The gentleman was looking for an assistant and a curator.

 It was superb timing, superb networking. That relationship landed the young artist a life-changing position at the museum, sparking a varied, decades-long career based in Great Falls that never veered far from his appreciation of Western art.

Always studying, fine-tuning his knowledge of Russell and many other artists, Jerry also branched into advertising, printing and tourism promotion. He owned a gallery, coordinated major art auctions and exhibits, and eventually became known nationwide as an expert to be trusted with art appraisals and consultations.

After 40 years, Jerry has the confidence of art collectors, both private or institutional, who trust his knowledge and his ethics. Museums and galleries have him on speed dial. He also realizes many of the people who contact him can’t distinguish a print from a painting, especially a watercolor, and they don’t recognize major artists.

 (Though this seems obvious, couldn’t he just, well… when asked if he’s ever been tempted…? “Never. It’s a cardinal rule of appraisal,” Jerry said. “I would never dream of undervaluing a piece and offering to buy it. It just won’t happen.”)

Packing up his own extensive art collection, he and his wife moved closer to family in Wenatchee last year, and in quasi-retirement at 71 Jerry keeps current with his professional organizations, corresponds with other experts in the field and hones his own skills. 

His firm, Open Range Art, is still open, and he’s pleased to handle about three requests a week for consultation, on-line consignments, or the answer to that familiar age-old question, “What’s this worth?”

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