THOMASTON — Kaja Veilleux has been an auctioneer of fine art and collectibles for more than four decades. As the owner of Thomaston Place Auction Galleries, he’s visited homes to survey private collections so often that he’s rarely surprised anymore.
He was surprised by Gary Haynes’ collection. Everywhere he looked, there were masterworks from 19th- and 20th-century American realists. Winslow Homer, Norman Rockwell, three generations of Maine’s first family of art, the Wyeths, and more, many of which would likely fetch six figures if sold.
“I knew he was a collector, but I really didn’t know what he had until I walked through those doors,” Veilleux said.
Haynes, who lived in Tennessee but had deep ties to Maine (he even opened a gallery here in 2010), died in January 2021 from complications of COVID-19. He was 75.
Beginning Friday, a selection from his extensive collection will anchor Thomaston Place’s summer auctions, which will take place over two weekends, July 8-10 and Aug. 26-28. The auctions are open to the public, but those participating by phone or online must register.
Late last month, every inch of the auction house showroom was filled with more than 1,500 items that will be auctioned this weekend. Not all of them are from the Haynes collection and not all of them are paintings or drawings. There are ancient Chinese bowls and plates, small and large furniture, sculptures and trinkets. Truly something for every collector, even those who may not have $50,000 or more to bid on some of the more valuable pieces.
But the artwork from Haynes is likely going to be the biggest draw.
Haynes’ stepson, Jay Sheridan, said the pieces up for auction represent just a fraction of the collection. The remainder will stay with his family for now.
“As a family, we selected pieces that we thought would best reflect some of the things he loved and pieces that he would love to see others get enjoyment from,” said Sheridan, who lives in Tennessee but has spent many summers in Maine and plans to visit this weekend with his family for the auction.
Jamie Wyeth, who at 75 is still making art and carrying his family’s legacy, visited Thomaston Place last month to see what was up for auction. He marveled at the various artwork on display as he chatted with Veilleux, reminiscing about his own pieces and pieces by his late father, Andrew, and grandfather, N.C., that had been owned by Haynes.
“It’s quite a collection,” Wyeth said, patting Veilleux on the back as they walked through the showroom.
APPRECIATION FOR ART
Haynes was a resident of Franklin, Tennessee, and a longtime advertising executive in Nashville.
But he was an artist at heart and, after building up and selling his advertising business in 1999, he returned to his first love. By that point, he had already quietly amassed a collection of artwork that rivaled a museum.
His interest only grew, and he later would launch a series of galleries, specializing in 19th- and 20th-century American realism, in Franklin and Nashville, but also in Thomaston.
Haynes also started painting again after a 25-year hiatus. In art school, he studied in Tennessee with noted water-colorist Carl Sublett, who knew and painted with Andrew Wyeth in Maine – one of Haynes’ artistic idols since high school.
It was Sublett’s stories and encouragement that eventually led Haynes to visit Maine.
“For many years, he set aside his brushes and focused on the business, but recreationally he was still very much into art and American realism and the Wyeth family,” Sheridan said. “He started going up to Maine in the ’80s. He always wanted to see where Wyeth painted, so he made a visit and that started a long love affair with Maine that would shape his later career.”
Andrew Wyeth split his time between Pennsylvania and the town of Cushing, just south of Thomaston.
Jamie Wyeth, who worked more in New York and on Monhegan Island, said he met Haynes on occasion but didn’t know him well.
“He was a very nice man,” Wyeth said. “And certainly had an appreciation for art.”
The Haynes Gallery in Thomaston became a showcase for American realism, but also a place for burgeoning artists.
“Dad was a private person naturally, so his passion for this was not something he shared with a lot of people until he opened the galleries and got to be involved with supporting upcoming artists,” Sheridan said.
Maine has long been synonymous with fine art, especially the style Haynes was interested in, but that wasn’t always true of Nashville, his stepson said.
“There were a lot of cultural things Nashville didn’t have, and I think he played a role in bringing them here,” Sheridan said.
All the while, Haynes continued building his own collection. Veilleux described visiting his home after his death last year as an almost religious experience. He, too, has been an avid collector since he first started saving coins as a child.
Haynes’ wife of 43 years, JoAnne, was just as much a collector, according to her son.
“She was there when he bought every one of those paintings,” Sheridan said. “She had the same love and appreciation he did.”
PIECES OF HISTORY
As Wyeth and Veilleux strolled the showroom, they swapped stories like old friends. Wyeth looked like he spent the morning in his studio; he wore knickers flecked with paint and high socks, with a dark vest over a linen shirt.
Not far into the tour, Wyeth stopped at one of his own paintings, “Kyle and the Influence,” from 2000. It depicts a boy standing in the grass, with a pumpkin on his head and an old house in the background. It was done on Monhegan Island, the legendary Maine artist colony.
“I haven’t seen this in years,” he said.
Neither Wyeth nor Veilleux knew how that painting ended up in Haynes’ collection. It was auctioned in 2006 by Christie’s in New York for just under $100,000 but the buyer wasn’t identified, which is common at auctions.
Truthfully, Wyeth said, he doesn’t pay much attention to the ownership of pieces of his art from the past.
“I’m only interested in what I’m working on now,” he said. “I expend myself on each painting, but afterwards I’m like, ‘Get this out of here.’ ”
As they talked, his eye caught another painting.
“That’s a nice one from my father,” Wyeth said, referring to a watercolor, “Pantry,” from the late 1960s. “That was done at the Olson House.”
The Olson House, an old farmhouse in Cushing, was a familiar setting for the elder Wyeth, most notably in “Christina’s World,” which is his most recognizable piece and one of the seminal works of American art in the last century. The house is now owned by the Farnsworth Art Museum. The painting is at New York’s Museum of Modern Art.
When they got to another of Jamie Wyeth’s pieces that will be auctioned – a drawing of Arnold Schwarzenegger done in 1977 at pop artist Andy Warhol’s Factory in New York City – Wyeth delighted Veilleux with a story.
Wyeth and Warhol were contemporaries and close friends, and Wyeth spent considerable time at Warhol’s studio, often doing portraits. At the time, Schwarzenegger had been a well-decorated bodybuilder internationally but was still learning English, Wyeth said.
“He was interested in all these women that were around, of course,” he said. “But he didn’t realize how many of them were men in drag.”
Wyeth’s portrait of Schwarzenegger, charcoal on a large sheet of corrugated cardboard, could fetch tens of thousands of dollars, according to the auction house estimate.
Wyeth said he lost track of who owned the drawing over the years.
“I don’t know how Gary ended up with that,” he said.
ALSO FOR SALE
Perhaps the most valuable piece up for auction at Thomaston Place this summer is one of 10 serigraphs from the portfolio “Marilyn Monroe” by Warhol, published in 1967. That was not part of Haynes’ collection.
Veilleux set the estimate between $70,000 and $90,000 but acknowledged it could go much higher.
One serigraph from that set sold at auction this spring sold for $350,000; another is part of the MOMA collection.
There also are much older pieces that Veilleux is auctioning on behalf of various sellers, including a seascape painting from 19th-century Russian artist Ivan Aivazovsky that has an estimate of $100,000, and a handful of paintings from Old Masters, such as “Madonna and Child with St. John the Baptist,” by Lucas Cranach the Elder from the 16th century.
In addition to the many realist paintings and drawings from Haynes’ collection, his estate is selling 13 black-and-white portraits by Yousuf Karsh, an Armenian genocide survivor who migrated to Canada and is considered one of most renowned portrait photographers of the 20th century.
Among the portraits up for auction are: Winston Churchill, Jacques Cousteau, Robert Frost, Ernest Hemingway, Albert Einstein, Cassius Clay (before he changed his name to Muhammad Ali) and more.
Veilleux and his auction house staff have spent hours and hours cataloging items and setting price estimates. During the three days of each auction, the auctioneer goes for 8-10 hours straight with no food or bathroom breaks.
Veilleux first opened an auction business more than 40 years ago in his Skowhegan home but has been in Thomaston for the last seven years. He estimates he’s facilitated the sale of a few hundred million dollars in fine art and collectibles in his time.
He expects this summer’s auctions to rank among the best.
“It’s remarkable when you think we can collect and store all this amazing stuff for 90 days or so … and then it’s gone,” he said. “But then someone else gets to enjoy it.”
All lots for sale during Thomaston Place’s summer auctions are available for viewing online at thomastonauction.com.
The auctions will begin at 11 a.m. each day, although prospective buyers can preview items from 9-11 a.m. each day. Bidding will be done in person, by telephone and online.