The Ones that Got Away

In Memoir by Lea

An oil painting featuring a seascape. There is yellow seaweed, different shaped and sized rocks, the water all under a cloudy sky.

I have a thrift store problem. I love hunting for treasures at the Goodwill. I go way too often—at least twice a month. There are so many interesting things placed willy-nilly on the shelves and it makes me happy to share my discoveries with family and friends. However, there are some things that have gotten away.

One afternoon last month, I went to the Goodwill on Gateway Avenue in Edmonton. It was a weekday and there weren’t many people in the store. I decided to peek around before getting a shopping cart to claim items. I was gazing at the stemware when I spotted six pink Depression glass port/sherry glasses for $5. Five bucks!

Depressions glass is North American glass that was made around the Great Depression (1930s). My mother collects it and I’ve grown up giving her green, pink and yellow glassware as presents. I know what to look for in order to identify the real deals from the fakes. True Depression glass is thin, has small bubbles in the glass and has long thin lines on the base (from drying on straw.) Reproduction pieces are often made out of a heavier glass and have seam lines.

In the 80s, Depression glass was expensive to buy but it is becoming less so as fewer people are collecting it. In the thrift store, it’s incredibly cheap. I made a mental note to come back to the glasses after I had looked around some more. On a shelf in another row, I found a pink Depression glass platter for $4. This was unheard of!

I squinted at my competition, the other shoppers; they seemed to be more interested in the clothing than in my Depression glass. I was sure I didn’t have to worry about any of the people in the store making away with “my” antiques. So I kept wandering the rows of the Goodwill, lifting up china and reading their provenance. I googled a few company names and then moved on. After about 20 minutes, I was finished my browsing and went to get a freshly sanitized cart. It was time to collect my prizes.

The pink Depression glass glasses were gone.

So was the platter.

I whipped my head right and left, seeking the wily shopper who must have the items in his/her/their basket. I couldn’t find the person who had gotten away with my finds. I left empty-handed.

The next Friday, I was at the Goodwill on Stony Plain Road. I was going through layers and layers of art stuffed into several bins. I had an audience; a man was standing by, watching me do all the hard work. My mask was hot and some of the paintings were large and heavy. I separated one big piece and lifted it out of the box, my arms struggling under the weight. I put it down on the floor and took a look. I immediately knew what I was seeing – the three sisters of Canmore.

An oil painting of the Three Sister mountains in Canmore, Alberta. Painting show the peaks, several small cabins and the Bow River.

The oil painting of the mountains was beautiful. The peaks were stretching into a blue sky swirled with wispy white clouds. I could tell it was autumn because of the light and the treetops that were turning yellow. There were several wooden cabins nestled along the bank of the Bow River. Everything was picture perfect. The signature read John Byrne Canmore /62. 

It was $50, a bit pricey in thrift store terms but it was a painting I’d like to have. Nevertheless, I had to keep sorting through the art so I put the Three Sisters back into the box. I moved on to the next bin, lifting out another oil painting. This one was an ocean scene and I couldn’t figure out the signature but I loved it. As an East Coaster, I could see the wet rocks covered in barnacles. I could smell the salt water coming in with the tide. The blue sky roiled with white clouds about to overtake some large hills in the background. The artist who had done the work signed the left-hand side but it was covered by the ugly frame.  

Both artworks had hideous frames. However, I could only have one picture. I didn’t have enough wall space for both large pieces – each over 108 cm (43”) long. They each cost $50. Which one should I buy?

I googled John Byrne. Turns out, he was a well-known and respected Canadian artist (1905-1975). His artworks weren’t going for millions but they weren’t going for fifty bucks either – more like hundreds of bucks. This was a steal. I’ll get the John Byrne.

I went back to the box where I had left the picture.

Where did it go?

The man who had been watching me now had possession of the painting.

“Are you going to get it?” I asked him.

“Yes,” he said. “It’s a John Byrne.”

Another one that got away.

I bought the seaside painting.

When I got it home, I saw the painting was framed at the Mona Lisa Art Salon in Calgary. I tore a bit of the paper off the back and discovered a name and more information: “NR Sissons 1970, $15 + frame $20.”

Brown paper ripped to reveal a white board back.

Hmmm. I googled the name and have come up with Nancy Ruth Sissons (1924 – 2014). She was an artist from Medicine Hat. However, her style doesn’t seem to fit the style of the painting. But I’m no artist. Who’s to say she didn’t dabble in other ways of expression? 

I have e-mailed the Mona Lisa. It’s been around for over 60 years and I know it from when I lived around the corner from the shop. I’ve even attended a networking event in the space.

Hard to see artist signature.

I’ve asked the studio owners if they know the provenance of the art piece. Does the business keep records from 50 years ago? I hope they respond. I’d love to know who created this vision. It’s now hanging on the wall at home and I’ve grown to like the frame.

In the meantime, I’ll continue shopping at the thrift store looking for antique Canadian china and vintage Made in Japan items. There’s such a history in these things that were made so beautifully. I’ve even started a shop, LanternVintageFinds, so other people can buy the interesting items that I find. I like shining a light on treasures from the past.

An oil painting featuring a seascape. There is yellow seaweed, different shaped and sized rocks, the water all under a cloudy sky.