Painting swapped in the 70s for a grilled cheese sandwich serves as a bargain | Canada

Working in the kitchen of their small restaurant in Ontario in the 1970s, Irene Demas and her husband Tony soon learned the value of trading their dishes for the talents of local bakers, artisans and artisans.

“Everyone was supporting everyone back then,” said Irene, at the time a bright-eyed chef in her twenties. In exchange for the day’s fresh flowers, for example, the couple brought soup and a sandwich to the florist next door.

And for an English painter with a predictable palate, the couple made a deal: they would get a selection of paintings from him and his friends in exchange for grilled cheese sandwiches.

Luckily, this deal unwittingly landed them a painting by famed Canadian folk artist Maud Lewis – a work that, nearly five decades later, is expected to fetch over C$35,000 (US$27,000) when it’s auctioned. auction this month.

Almost every day after it opened, painter John Kinnear and his wife Audrey dined at the Villa, a restaurant run by the Demas in London, Ontario. And every day, the only meal Kinnear ordered was a grilled cheese sandwich.

“Notice, it wasn’t just an ordinary grilled cheese. It was a great sandwich, with five-year-old cheddar and beautiful bread,” Irene said.

Demas visited artisan bakeries each morning before the restaurant opened, selecting freshly baked breads and a “wonderful cheddar that John loved”.

She brushed butter, toasted slices of whole-grain bread until crispy, all for $2.95 CDN. But the repetitive order nonetheless frustrated Demas, who was trying to entice his stubborn boss to try new dishes and daily specials. “He never moved. He loved that sandwich.

The first painting the couple received from Kinnear was a watercolor of Jumbo, a famous elephant that was hit and killed by a train in the town of St Thomas, Ontario.

One day Kinnear came with a selection of new paintings. Demas emerged from the kitchen and saw half a dozen coins lying on the tables and chairs in the restaurant.

“I sat there in silence for quite a while. I had never seen art like this before. At first I thought they could play or play a trick on me,” she said of the works’ bright colors and simple content. “Has a child made a few?”

Maud Lewis was known for her cheerful paintings of life in rural Nova Scotia. Photography: No credit

Kinnear told the couple of an artist he met in the province of Nova Scotia, a woman who was ‘so poor she didn’t have the right things to paint on’, instead resorting to scraps of wood and the remains of paint fishermen used on their boats.

“He felt sorry for her,” Demas said. Kinnear sent Lewis prepared boards for painting, of which she returned a handful with finished works.

Of the selection that day, the only paint that stood out for Demas was that of a black truck. She was pregnant at the time and thought the scene might look good on her son’s wall, where she has remained until now.

Lewis, who lived most of her life in poverty, was known for her cheerful paintings of life in rural Nova Scotia. She often repeated themes, including cats and ice skaters.

“I put on the same things, I never change,” she told a documentary crew in 1965. She painted almost every inch of the one-room house she shared with her husband, Everett, including the couple’s stove. Lewis’ production plummeted in the last years of her life as she developed rheumatoid arthritis. She died in 1970 at the age of 69.

In the years that followed, his fame increased dramatically and his works increasingly fetched tens of thousands of dollars. A 2013 biopic only renewed interest and excitement around unconventional paintings.

“It’s just a shame that she didn’t live long enough to really reap the rewards of her art,” Demas said.

With the encouragement of their children, the couple decided to put the work up for sale, along with three pieces of correspondence between Kinnear and Lewis, in which she thanked him for his continued generosity.

“My husband is 90 and I don’t think I’m 50 yet to hang on to it,” she said. “Kids say, use the money and travel and just enjoy life.”

About Edward Weddle

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