The A.R. Mitchell Museum announced it earned over $77,000 in a recent auction, part of a new effort to promote Trinidad’s premier Western artist Arthur Roy Mitchell, as well as update and preserve the museum and its collection in 2020. The Mitch, as it’s affectionately known by locals, went to auction on Nov. 7 as part of Hindman Auctions’ “Arts of American West” in Denver.
The museum sold 11 original Mitchell paintings, as well as pieces from artists Harvey Dunn, Harold Von Schmidt, and other contemporaries of Mitchell. They also sold two pots and two baskets from Mitchell’s private collection. This is the first time the museum has sold Mitchell’s work.
Board President Laura Tucker said the board had discussed the idea of selling a few Mitchells in the past to raise money but decided it was not the right time. According to Tucker, a Western art specialist from Hindman Auctions visited the museum and “was floored” by the large collection.
“It was a difficult call, but we wanted to make sure we balanced preserving the collection we have with increasing his visibility and the value of his work,” Board member Rick Johnson said. “Unfortunately, his work is great, but he’s not widely known. This was a great opportunity to work with a quality auction house that showed an interest in us.”
The reason for this lack of visibility? Museum Executive Director Allyson Sheumaker said it’s because Mitchell never sold his work. Mitchell was friends with other artists and would occasionally trade pieces, but he never profited from his art.
“This is just my opinion, having read his letters and researched about Mitchell, I think he didn’t want someone to tell him what his work was worth,” Sheumaker said. “He painted because he had to, and that is part of our problem as a museum. We’re blessed with having so many of [Mitchell’s paintings and sketches], but he’s forgotten. People don’t know who he is anymore, unless they’re doing very specific research on Western art illustrators.”
The success of the auction, according to Sheumaker, shows that people are interested in the life and work of Mitchell. All of the 11 Mitchell pieces in the auction sold for more than their low estimate, with many exceeding the high estimate.
“We thought because the popularity of Western illustrators and the Golden Age of Pulp has seen a resurgence, this was the right time to do it,” Sheumaker said.
With the $77,000 from the auction, the museum will be taking on many projects in 2020 that have been on the back burner for a long time, Sheumaker said. Along with publishing a book of Mitchell’s artwork, the museum plans to work on collection management, including creating a climate-controlled environment for the large collection of Mitchell’s work that are not out on display. The board has also allocated a portion of the money to update the bathrooms and kitchen in the space, which is frequently used for public and private events.
As well as updates to the museum and collection, these funds have allowed the Mitch to hire a curator for a minimum of six months who is working exclusively with the collection, creating permanent displays for the museum as well as a traveling exhibition. According to Sheumaker, this traveling show will hopefully continue to promote Mitchell’s name and his work.
Sheumaker said the board is happy with the steps they have taken to help museum move forward and continue to grow.
“I’m here five days a week and most people who come in [the museum] just wandered in,” Sheumaker said. “We want to make it a destination and really put Mitchell on the map.”
Curatorial efforts as well as renovations are already underway, with more projects to begin later this year. For more information on Mitchell or the museum, visit armitchellmuseum.com.