Woman traded grilled cheese sandwiches 50 years ago for painting that eventually sold for $280K


A rare painting that landed in the possession of Irene and Tony Demas many decades ago has made them richer by hundreds of thousands of dollars.

In the early 1970s, the couple opened an eatery in London called The Villa. Tony worked in real estate and Irene was a newlywed aged 19.

Having discovered a building that once housed a restaurant, he suggested they open their own.

Irene Demas and Tony Demas holding a Maud Lewis painting of a black truck
Courtesy of Irene Demas

It had never occurred to Irene to work in a restaurant kitchen since she had no culinary experience. The chef at the Villa had too many beers on the first day, so Tony asked his wife to take over.

Irene said, “I knew nothing about food honestly.”. “But I knew how to make a grilled cheese, so I thought, “OK, we’ll have grilled cheese sandwiches for our special.”. “That’s all I know … and maybe boiling water.”

To make her famous grilled cheese sandwiches, Irene uses five-year-old cheddar and freshly baked artisan bread.

A Maud Lewis painting featuring a black truck
Courtesy of Irene Demas

Audrey and John Kinnear came to the restaurant around 1973. In the 1970s, the two couples became friends and soon began trading.

John brought in some of his art and asked Tony if they could trade grilled cheese sandwiches for art. His watercolor creations were genuinely loved by Irene and Tony.

“We never kept track, to say, “OK, you were in, and you spent $15.”. Now, you know, you’re gonna give us $15 credit,’” Irene explained. I had such a wonderful relationship with the Kinnears.”

During a trade, John brought pieces of art that weren’t his own. An artist named Maud Lewis, who had limited mobility and was of simple means, made them for him.

Courtesy of Irene Demas

“(Kinnear) came in with this strange-looking artwork. “Irene said it was on board, unframed, a very childlike, primitive piece of art. I’m not an art expert, and we didn’t collect art. It was just a matter of knowing what we liked.”

She noticed one painting in particular, a black truck with a bright yellow background. If they had a boy, she thought they could hang it in his room if she was pregnant.

Irene picked the right one since they had a boy. The painting, along with some handwritten letters Lewis sent to John, was framed and hung in the room of her newborn son.

In decades later, Lewis, who lived in Nova Scotia and never achieved any financial success for her art, became a topic of interest in the art world.

Around 2000, Irene began hearing the name John had mentioned decades earlier. At the time, Maud Lewis’ paintings brought in $2,000 to $3,000 in auction sales.

“I didn’t really look into it since, like I said, we loved the piece,” Irene said. “We did not buy it as an investment or as a great piece of art.”

Irene was pursued by various auctioneers, but two brothers from Miller & Miller Auctions remained determined. They presented butter tarts to Irene and Tony face-to-face. A few days after their meeting, Irene put the piece up for auction with the encouragement of her children.

The painting sold for CA$350,000 (US$278,789) on May 14, and the letters for CA$70,000 (US$55,758).

Irene said their earnings will be put to good use after they sell the painting they’ve had for decades.

Irene works as a private chef on and off, while Tony, now 90, has been traveling.

“Without the grilled cheese, it would just have been another Maud Lewis painting going up for auction,” Irene said. “I know it would have broken all records because it is a special and unique painting, but I think it was the grilled cheese story that really let the world know it was there.”

source : mypositiveoutlooks


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