a work glove to white glove Story
A True Story by Jared A. Whipple
On September 22, 2017 I received a call from a friend of mine about a barn in Watertown, Connecticut. His company was hired to clean it out and dispose of all the contents. He said that no one had gone into the barn in many years and asked if I would want to take a look at what was inside. Being a collector of vintage items, especially anything Harley Davidson or automobile related, I was very intrigued as to what I might find. The next day I drove to the barn with my good friend George Martin and his son Logan. Not only is George a local Connecticut skateboarding legend, but he is also known for building one of the biggest and best Halloween attractions in our area. Every year the crowd gets bigger and bigger with over two thousand people attending. The town even has to shut down the road because of all the chaos.
With that being said, when we went to see what was in the barn, it was just one month before Halloween and George still had no idea what he was going to build. Upon arrival to the barn we were not able to wrap our heads around what we saw. It was gut-wrenching and very upsetting for us to get to see what looked like a lifetime of somebody’s artwork being thrown into dumpsters and heading for the landfill. It did not sit right with either of us and within minutes we decided that part of the collection should live on. We immediately thought that George could use it to create and build the biggest, craziest haunted art gallery that anyone has ever seen.
We started pulling paintings out of the dumpster and piling them anywhere we could — onto my trailer, in the back of George’s truck, and even on the roof racks. Every painting was individually wrapped in plastic and covered in mold, dirt, dust, roofing debris, and even animal feces.
We decided to unwrap the artwork to get a better look. Once we opened them in better light, we not only noticed the good shape they were in but more important the quality of the work. I started seeing some that really grabbed my attention and made me step back to take a better look. It was something that fine art had never done to me before. Being a mechanic my whole life, I was able to pick out many hidden car parts and noticed a bio-mechanical theme going on with some of the artwork. Neither George nor I had ever seen anything remotely similar in style for that matter. We started to really appreciate what was surrounding us. It was in that moment we wanted to know just who this artist was and his story.
What better person to ask than Mr. Google!! All of the canvases were signed “F. Hines,” and since we were at his barn, we thought this was his address. So how hard could it be to find out about him? Well, it was a little bit harder than expected. The search for F. Hines wasn’t coming up with anything. If the artist was really a “someone” known in his field, would their entire estate really have been thrown into giant dumpsters?! Even if he wasn’t famous, at the very least we thought everything was so fascinating that we decided to rescue all of it. There was No Painting Left Behind! I came up with a plan: It would be used to completely cover the walls and ceilings of my indoor skateboard park. Even if we also used the paintings for George’s Halloween attraction, they would still be displayed afterwards and enjoyed in my indoor skateboard park by many people for years to come. (I will mention more about that later.) It was a win-win for us at that point.
As we emptied out the entire 40-yard dumpster and started lugging works out of the barn we uncovered more and more clues as to who created everything. One of the first big clues was a painting from 1961 that was signed with a full name, “Francis Mattson Hines.” I immediately got back to my good buddy Mr. Google. The first image that came up was The Washington Square Arch in New York, completely wrapped in 8,000 yards of polyester fabric by the artist Francis Hines. It was the same type of fabric that most of the paintings had stretched around them, and in which every sculpture was wrapped. There were also tons of fabric rolls still in the barn. BINGO! We had a match! Not only was this artist a “someone,” but he was even more well known in the New York art world than we could ever have imagined. At least that’s what we thought. Little did I know how the art world really works, but I was going to find out very soon.
After several trips to my warehouse/former auto body shop in Waterbury we had quickly filled an entire 2,000 square-foot area with all of the artwork. During the next couple of days George and I continued researching Francis. It didn’t take us long to realize that we shouldn’t use the collection for Halloween. We believed it was created by a true master and therefore should be treated with the dignity and respect that it so rightfully deserved. George was able to come up with a KILLER idea just days before Halloween and it was a bigger hit than I could ever have imagined (but that’s another story for another time). Over the next several months my Uncle Scott helped me completely categorize the entire collection. That included unwrapping, hanging on the wall, photographing, measuring, cataloging, and re-wrapping every painting and sculpture. There were hundreds of hours involved in that process. During that time my Uncle and I had more laughs, smiles, and good times than we had enjoyed in many years. It was one of the best bonding experiences of my life. So, once again, this project was a win-win and already starting to pay off.
Concerned about the condition issues of the collection and where we were storing it, George and I gave the entire building a quick overhaul. That included fixing gutters, roof leaks, and drain pipes, as well as nonstop cleaning and organizing. Not only was this all done in between our full-time jobs but we were also coming to the end of building one of the biggest private skateboard parks in the northeast, The Warehouse CT, Inc. (but that is yet another story in itself).
Once the building was completely buttoned up and the entire collection was organized, cataloged, and put into storage, only then could I begin my deep research. Throughout the next several months I spent multiple hours every night researching Francis, his family, his friends, and especially anyone that has ever exhibited or talked about his work. Most of the people or galleries that I contacted would all say the same thing: Francis was an incredible artist who created fascinating works but, unfortunately, he was now completely unknown to the contemporary art world. Unknown?! Not according to my good friend Mr. Google!! Not only are there multiple publications online about Francis, but there have also been many in print throughout the years. Just one month after finding the collection in the barn, New York City was celebrating 50 years of “Art in the Parks.” Guess who was a big part of that? That’s right, our UNKNOWN artist, Francis Hines. There was even an article titled, “The 10 Most Memorable Public Art Installations in New York City.” Coming in at number 10 in the article was Francis Hines’ wrapping of the Washington Square Arch. At the same time, The Museum of The City of New York had an exhibition taking place in which Francis was also a part. So yes, it did confuse me that he was supposedly “unknown” to the art world. I ran into many dead ends throughout the months and almost ran out of ideas until I contacted a retired art dealer and incredible artist from San Francisco named Muldoon Elder.
Muldoon was the owner of the very successful Vorpal Gallery located in New York City and San Francisco. He exhibited Francis’ work during the mid to late 1980s. Muldoon was able to confirm what I had thought all along. Francis was a true master who created very powerful works but, unfortunately, he chose to fly under the radar and remained a sub rosa artist. Seeing that Muldoon was the sole person responsible for launching M.C. Escher and many other talented artists, I knew he was more than qualified to help out with this project. After many conversations over the phone and numerous emails, he pointed me in the direction of a very well-known art historian named Peter Hastings Falk. For the next couple of weeks I took a break from researching Francis and focused all of my attention on Peter. I quickly found out that he is part of an extraordinary artist discovery group (discoveries in American Art). After reading Peter’s biography and his involvement in similar projects, I was beyond confident that he may be the missing piece to this puzzle. I finally worked up the courage to give him a call. Not only did Peter completely hear me out, but he also drove to Waterbury where he reviewed the collection in person.
As of now, we are working together with the objectives of establishing Francis Hines as a significant artist of the 20th and 21st centuries. Stay tuned for more details, photos, and updated information as the days go on.
— JW, 1 August 2018