First Friday find: Charity adds unique aspect to monthly art walk
PORTLAND — Art lovers who plan to scour the city's downtown galleries during this week's First Friday Art Walk may want to add an out-of-the-way stop: a store better known for used clothing than used masterpieces.
At its "Art from the Attic" exhibit, Friday from 5-8 p.m., the Catholic Charities Thrift Store will unveil its latest collection of paintings, framed photographs, prints and other art work for sale.
The store, in Union Station Plaza at 244 St. John St., sells donated household goods at discounted prices. Sale proceeds support Catholic Charities' human service programs, which help more than 55,000 Maine residents annually.
While used furniture, clothing and books make up most of the wares, dozens of second-hand pieces of art fill an expanding "gallery" at the back of the store.
"(The gallery) runs the gamut, everything from crafty stuff all the way to fine arts," store manager Cassie Bouton said. "... We have some beautiful pieces, and also quirky, interesting things that you can't find anywhere else."
The Art from the Attic exhibits began in May, after the store received a donation of 50 original oil paintings from an anonymous Maine artist. Since then, the store has been showcasing its one-of-a-kind finds on First Friday, the popular monthly tours of Portland's galleries, studios and museums sponsored by Portland's Downtown District.
The store is not an official participant in the art walks, and is "a little off the beaten path," Bouton admitted. "But First Friday is such a big part of Portland, and we wanted to be part of it."
That's why the store saves its special finds for the first Friday of each month.
"We get a nice, steady supply of (art work), so by the time First Friday rolls around we always have a fresh batch, " Bouton said.
Some items sell for as little as $5. Setting a price can be difficult, retail operations director Sibyl Pitcock said, "especially with original pieces, some of which can be very valuable. But we try to make (the prices) accessible."
On the high end, one of the anonymous donor's seascapes recently sold for $275. Based on information enclosed with the painting, Bouton estimated that a commercial gallery would have priced it at more than $4,000.
The chance to discover such hidden gems is part of the attraction.
"Each of these pieces has its own story," community outreach coordinator Bill Wood said. "People come in, they're quite savvy ... and they're just looking to see what we've found."
He pointed to one of the more unusual donations, a painted mahogany wall carving of a dog. The piece's donor said he purchased the carving in Honduras, according to Wood, and that it was worth an estimated $250. The store has priced it at $20.
Portland resident Dolly Foster said she visits the thrift shop regularly to find additions for her collection. A former trustee of the Maine College of Art, she also has donated works of art to Catholic Charities.
"The store has helped me want to clean up my house a bit," Foster said. "I say, 'Do we really need (a piece of art) anymore? No, someone else can use it.' And bringing it here helps people. So it's a win-win situation."