Local art treasures hit the bidding block 

George White, who died at the age of 91 just over a year ago, was a lifelong bachelor who lived for over 60 years in the same modest cottage on East Boulder. He worked as an accountant until well into his 70s, and, upon retirement, embarked on a second career as an expert on historic Colorado Springs. He gave hundreds of presentations, mostly to elementary school classes, often focusing on early paintings and painters of the Pikes Peak region.

A passionate, relentless and knowledgeable collector, George began collecting regional art way before it was cool to do so. Having lived all of his life in the Springs, George knew many of the artists personally. William H. Bancroft, Francis Drexel Smith, Charlie Bunnell and Tabor Utley, well known in the first half of the century, had fallen into obscurity by the late '60s. And as the collectors who had bought their work passed away, their estates went to sale or auction.

For at least two decades, George was a regular at Ross Auction's Monday sales. He'd done his homework, so when a charming, somewhat primitive oil painting of a mountain landscape with a covered wagon in the foreground came up for sale, he knew what it was. Indistinctly signed "M. Banta," it was one of the few surviving works by Mattie Banta, a woman who came out to Colorado in the middle years of the 19th century, homesteaded near Colorado Springs, and subsequently taught school in Cripple Creek. George snatched the picture up for a few dollars and treasured it for the rest of his life.

In the early '80s, interested in local art, I often found myself bidding against George at Ross. By then, his collection had far outgrown his house and even his closets. He must have had 40 or 50 oils stacked in his guest bedroom, and paintings hung on every available wall space. He loved to trade -- he got the best of me in a couple of deals -- but he'd never sell.

Once, I asked him what he intended to do with his collection. White said he wanted his collection to remain here and to be dispersed to eager collectors who could duke it out at auction.

The George White estate sale will be held on May 9 and 10 at George's home. It'll include artists who are nationally known, such as Charles Craig, George Elbert Burr and Charles Partridge Adams, as well as those, such as George van der Sluis, Richard Ernesti, Donna Sumner and, of course, Mattie Banta, who are familiar only to dedicated locals. Don't expect to find the kind of bargains that so delighted George -- the days of picking up a fine Mattie Banta for 10 bucks are long gone. But prices are likely to be reasonable, and with so much available, a couple of pieces might fall through the cracks.

And if George's estate sale doesn't satisfy your hunger, you might want to take in the benefit auction for UCCS' Heller Center for Arts and Humanities the following Thursday. Larry Heller, a contemporary of George White, was a marvelous artist who lived in Colorado Springs most of his life.

His home, willed to the University by his widow Dorothy, is now the site of the Center. As well as art donated by local artists, four of Larry's bronze sculptures will be auctioned off. (For more on Heller, see Noel Black's story, "The Gatsbys of Yawn Valley" at http://www.csindy.com/csindy/2002-12-12/cover.html.)

In conclusion: a wallet-busting, credit card-maxing, art orgy week for the hard-core collectors among us. See you there -- and by the way, the Banta is mine.

-- John Hazlehurst


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