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Painting auction produces windfall for Economy Shop

Charity's 100th anniversary ends on high note

June 11th, 2019 3:00 PM

Going once, going twice ... : Vice President/Senior Specialist John Walcher seeks bid for the painting "Three Women on Hilltop," an oil on canvas painted by Charles Courtney Curran, during the Toomey & Co. Art & Design Auction on June 9. The painting was donated to the Economy Shop and the bulk of the proceeds from the painting's auction will benefit six local charities. | Photo provided

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By Michelle Dybal

Contributing Reporter

The 100th anniversary season for the Economy Shop in Oak Park culminated with the auction of a 30-by-30-inch oil on canvas painted in 1919, the same year the Economy Shop opened. The painting had been dropped off as a donation along with the thousands of others items that come into the shop from August through May.      

"Three Women on Hilltop," painted by American artist Charles Courtney Curran, sold on June 9 for $35,000 during an auction by Toomey & Co. Auctioneers of Oak Park. The amount was well above the auction estimate of $10,000 to $15,000. After fees are subtracted, the Oak Park based resale shop will reap nearly $25,000.

Economy Shop President Nancy Hines, who attended the auction got caught up in the excitement as the price quickly increased in $1,000 increments and began volleying between an online and phone bidder. 

"My heart was racing and I was so grateful," Hines said. "In my mind, I was dividing by six because I wanted there to be a fall bonus."

Hines said the bulk of the proceeds from the sale will go to the agencies they support – Infant Welfare Society, The Day Nursery, Thrive, Senior Citizens' Center, Animal Care League and OPRF Food Pantry. 

Each fiscal year, the Economy Shop guarantees each organization a specific amount in exchange for them providing regular volunteers to staff a room in the 16-department resale shop in a repurposed house on Grove and South Boulevard. 

For 2018-19, the nonprofits were guaranteed $15,000 for the year, distributed monthly. A bonus is given if the Economy Shop is able to do so, typically in September. However, the charities were each surprised with a $10,000 anniversary bonus in May. The successful sale of the painting will enable an additional September bonus, Hines said.

Also part of the 100th anniversary wrap-up was the final sale of the season on June 8, which included a silent auction of items displayed at the Oak Park-River Forest Museum exhibit "Donations through the Decades, Shopping through the Century." 

Hines said the shop made nearly $2,500 more at the last sale this year compared to last year's; sales average $10,400 each date. The bump is attributed to large crowds and interest in the 31 silent auction items that garnered $775 in sales and a previously unsold decorative object which went for $500. 

One donation included in the museum exhibit was a partial set of hotel china with a note saying it survived the Chicago Fire. Hines was able to date the set to pre-1871 by a mark at the bottom of a blackened sugar bowl. 

The sugar and creamer are headed to the Chicago History Museum next week to become part of their collection. Other pieces of the set were sold at the silent auction.  

Meanwhile, the painting is destined for the West Coast. Lucy Toomey was on the phone with the winning bidder during the auction.  

"It is a nice painting and the Economy Shop does great work," said the Toomey & Co. CEO, who grew up in Oak Park. The painting was displayed on the featured wall behind the auctioneer, because they "wanted to give it as much exposure as they could," Toomey said.  

When the painting came into the Economy Shop last August, what first caught Hines' eye was the gold-leaf frame, which she recognized as being something special. The artwork was taken to Toomey & Co. for evaluation and they confirmed the painting was valuable; the frame appeared original.

"Three Women on Hilltop" was likely painted at Cragsmoor Art Colony in New York's Hudson River Valley by Curran, who summered there and began painting sunlit women on rocky hilltops or cliffs. 

His works are in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, where he exhibited several times in his lifetime, in addition to The Smithsonian, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and others.