When Jared Whipple first got the call to look at a trove of abandoned paintings that a friend of his found at a garbage disposal in 2017, he had no idea it would lead to an intimate, life-changing relationship with the artist who created it died and left everything behind.
Whipple’s story of how he came to acquire hundreds of beautiful paintings by Francis Hines and what he has done to research and promote the artist since his death, lifting his name from obscurity and into the pages of the most widely read newspapers and bringing websites to the world – along with a feature on CBS Sunday morning in April – has become the stuff of legend.
A selection of Hines’ paintings will be on display at Hamptons Fine Art Fair in conjunction with the Hollis Taggart Gallery, who invited Whipple to show them here, in Southampton next weekend, July 14-17. Less than a decade ago, when Hines was still alive, the now hip and desirable artist would have been refused entry to such a prestigious event.
A forgotten artist found
“Francis lived in Watertown, Connecticut in the 1970s. He had a big farmhouse with a couple of barns on the property,” says Whipple, who hails from nearby Waterbury, and explains how the New York artist’s lifetime of work ended abandoned in a crumbling barn.
Hines stayed in Watertown until finally moving to NYC in 1978, Whipple adds, pointing out that Hines had a deal to continue renting one of the barns for storage after he moved to New York, “and every few years he would send a truck full of work.”
When Hines died in 2016, the 96-year-old artist had some career highlights, including some exposure for the 1980 wrapping of the Washington Square Arch, along with a public installation at JFK Airport and the wrapping of buildings in lower east New York City Side, but these achievements have long been forgotten.
“He had no recognition yet, no interest in any work, and his family was responsible for everything,” says Whipple, explaining that the artist had two sons who had lived to be quite old themselves by the time their father died, and neither did they feel like it still room to hold the collection.
Meanwhile, the barn’s owner was keen to clean up the building so they could sell it – something he had asked Hines to do in the years leading up to his death.
“A few years went by and Francis never cleaned it. Now it was up to the family to do it and it was such a large collection that wasn’t really kept properly and it was just overwhelming for them to take it elsewhere or especially do anything else with it as it never got recognition ‘ says Whipple.
The family took what they could, what meant the most to them, and left the rest for the dumpster. Then Whipple’s friend invited him to have a look.
“It was hard to even engage with what we were seeing because there was just so much art and it was so big,” Whipple recalls. “Luckily for us and for Francis’ sake, every single painting was individually wrapped in this heavy plastic,” he says. “The barn had all these broken windows. All these animals lived there. It was almost a dangerous place to be in the barn itself. It was a very rough place,” he continues, suggesting that that was one of the reasons Hines’ kids didn’t try to do more. “But we’re workers, we’re gritty guys, we’re skateboarders, I do a lot of building maintenance, so it didn’t bother us as much as it would have bothered anyone else.”
Whipple decided to collect and take home all of the work, which he later learned spanned most of Hines’ career from 1958 to 2016. “Once we got her back to me, the first thing we had to do was get her out of this plastic that was literally covered in animal feces all over. We wore respirators and rubber gloves to cut those things open,” Whipple recalls. But once he started unpacking the parts and found most in near-excellent condition, he was mesmerized.
“Just to bring them back to me and get them out of that old plastic and catalog them was months and months of work,” he says, describing the daily effort he and his uncle Scott put in to nearly fill his 3,000 square meter warehouse/former body shop with paintings, drawings and sculptures until the job was done.
With everything cataloged and stored, Whipple began obsessively researching Hines, which was no easy task. Eventually, however, he found a book on eBay that Hines’ wife Sandra had published about the artist, which revealed a lot about him and his life.
Who Was Francis Hines?
“It was mostly about the wrapping of the Washington Square Arch, but it also gave me a biography of him, it gave me who his family and crew members were and his friends, the work he did before the arch.” , he says. “That’s when I really started going down this rabbit hole of research,” Whipple continues, explaining how he found people from Hines’ life — including Hamptons artist Nick Weber, who for years had a studio and close friendship with shared with the elderly painter in NYC – and began to get a better picture of his life.
He also began reaching out to galleries, but none of them were interested until he found San Francisco artist and Vorpal gallery owner Muldoon Elder, who had shown Hines’ work in the 1980s.
Elder introduced Whipple to a respected art historian, Peter Hastings Falk, who helped rediscover the late North Fork painter Arthur Pinajian and also happens to be the chief curator and editor of an artist discovery group called Discoveries in American Art.
Falk offered to help, and with his approval and understanding of the quality and importance of the work, Hines’ legacy was to change.
As Falk said CBS Sunday morning, “I was impressed, I was blown away by the originality that I saw.” He also pointed out that in his estimation, Whipple’s collection “was worth well into the millions of dollars when all was said and done”. Falk will speak in the frame Unwrapping the Mystery of New York Packaging: Francis Hines, a panel discussion about the artist and his work at the Hamptons Fine Art Fair on Friday, July 15 from 1:00 p.m. to 1:30 p.m
The Hamptons Fine Art Fair is just the latest in a growing list of shows featuring works by Francis Hines, the most recent of which almost sold out from May 5th to June 11th at the Hollis Taggart Gallery in Southport, CT, according to Whipple, of people say bought 26 of the 30 pieces on display.
And while the work is indeed excellent, most combining colorful pastels and stretched nylon fabric in tense, sturdy compositions on Arches paper mounted on wood, there would certainly be no sell-out shows were it not for Whipple and his efforts – don’t mention these sensational stories about its discovery.
The compelling story of a million dollar find
The headline was made for internet click bait. To put it bluntly, “Connecticut mechanic discovers multi-million dollar art left in dumpster” caught people’s attention and the story quickly went viral, although in some ways those words, or versions of those words, were more self-fulfilling than immediately true .
Whipple, who does not claim to be an art expert, explains that while he felt thrilled to be paying so much attention to Hines and his work, he was uncomfortable with the angle of the story being told – a story that began with the Daily Mail presenting it in the crude language of dollars and cents, rather than reviving the more nuanced story of an artist’s career after decades of never receiving the recognition it deserved.
“They turned it into something I never wanted and I was against,” says Whipple, a down-to-earth skater and self-proclaimed worker. “As soon as they got their hands on the price list, they turned it into this ‘Art Found in Dumpster Worth Millions’ story, and for me it was just… I had a hard time accepting that headline.”
But the story was actually true, even if the “worth millions” part came after he and Hines were thrust into the spotlight. It’s a revealing anecdote about the subjectivity of art and the power of perception in a volatile market that can make or break artists based on luck or the opinion of a so-called important person.
It’s also perhaps a story that could bring hope to all the creative talents out there, working in studios, never getting their moment in the proverbial sun, and suffering from an existential fear that one day they’ll shed that mortal coil just for the sake of letting go She has her work and legacy relegated to thrift store bins or, worse, forgotten in a dumpster.
Works by Francis Hines will be on display at Hamptons Fine Art Fair July 14-17 at the Southampton Fair Grounds, 605 County Road 39. Visit hamptonsfineartfair.com for tickets and information.