HELENA – When retired Gibsonburg art teacher Marto “Marty” Atkinson was growing up in Hudson, her mother hung a Thomas Moran painting on the wall. Her mother was repeatedly told by so-called antiquarian experts that the painting was worthless, but her mother insisted that the painting was of great value.
Atkinson, who now lives in Helena, doesn’t know much about the painting’s history, except that her grandfather somehow acquired it in Philadelphia. When her mother died, Atkinson inherited the painting, and she often wondered if her mother’s intuition about it was correct.
Atkinson inherited the painting artist whose work created Yellowstone National Park
In 2005, Atkinson realized her mother was right.
“My friend had tickets to the Antiques Roadshow and she called me and said, ‘Get the painting,’” Atkinson said.
They traveled to Cleveland where the Antiques Roadshow was being taped, and after the staff saw what she brought, Atkinson was invited to appear on the show.
“It was amazing to see behind the scenes. We were there all day and they gave us food,” she said.
Atkinson wasn’t told the price of the painting until she was on camera, and she believed what they told her. The painting was valued at $50,000 at the time. Today it costs even more.
“My mother must have been very happy. She knew it had value,” Atkinson said. “It was such an experience. People have these things that they’re throwing away because they don’t think they’re worth it. They’re in their attic or basement and they find out at the show that they’re worth a lot.”
The retired art teacher plans for the painting to go to a Toledo museum after her death
Initially, Atkinson arranged in her will to donate the painting to the Toledo Museum of Art upon her death, but a group of friends had other ideas. Every week, Atkinson meets with Scott Michaels, Ernst Hillenbrand, Bruce Hirt and Bob Taylor in a coffee shop. When Atkinson told them her plan one day over iced coffee, they offered her this advice: Why wait?
“They suggested I donate it now while I’m still alive,” Atkinson said.
Moran traveled to Yellowstone with the Cook expedition
Thomas Moran (1837-1926) was an American painter whose career quickly took off when Civil War financier Jay Cooke invited Moran to join an expedition team to the little-known Yellowstone region. Cook was born in Sandusky and eventually built a summer home called Cook Castle on the island of Gibraltar in Put-in-Bay Harbor. Sketches of Yellowstone made by Moran during the campaign helped Congress establish the nation’s first national park at Yellowstone in 1872.
When Atkinson contacted the Toledo Museum of Art about a possible donation, they sent an art expert to her home to review the painting. The museum is delighted to accept the donation of a creation by such a distinguished artist. The painting was restored at the museum’s expense, raising its value from $50,000 to $70,000.
Today, the Toledo Museum of Art object no. 2021.16 is listed as an oil on canvas “Landscape” by Thomas Moran, the collection data reads, “Given by Martha Atkinson in memory of her mother.”
“This is the best thing. I can see that. It was a really good decision to make,” Atkinson said. “It’s so amazing that it’s hanging in a museum. Who would have thought that would happen?”
Atkinson has visited the museum several times to see the painting that once hung in her family home.
“I always think about my mom,” she said. “She was right about how valuable she was, but people didn’t believe her. She would take his picture to antique shows and people would say it was worthless.”
Contact Correspondent Sheri Trusty at [email protected]