Yale University dumpster find is valuable piece of art
A local women has learned an etching her late father took out of a dumpster at Yale University some 17 years ago is an original work by famed Chinese artist Zao Wou-Ki worth $10,000 to $15,000.
Cheryl Conroy Warren has had the framed etching all these years and, although she owned Antiques of Wildwood in Branford, never had the time to get it appraised. Warren is a trained appraiser, but the piece was outside her expertise.
Then Warren had the opportunity to appear on the popular “Antiques Roadshow” recently, so she jumped at it.
One of the show’s appraisers, Todd Weyman, recognized the piece immediately as “Flora and Fauna,” an early work of Zao done in 1951. The artist made 200 of them and the one her father found is No. 190.
“His early work like this — extremely hard to find,” Weyman told Warren on the show. “By the ’70s into the ’80s , he was hotly collected. Nowadays he’s one of the top Chinese-born artists. A Chinese national.”
Weyman, vice-president at Swann Galleries, put the value at auction at between $10,000 and $15,000.
“That is wonderful, that is so cool,” Warren responded to Weyman. “My dad’s here (in spirit) with me today. My mom is going to be so happy.”
Warren’s joy at discovering the etching’s value has less to do with money and more about how happy it would make her late father , Arnold Conroy. It was one of the many items — both practical and not practical — that he collected from work sites during his long construction career. She said with five kids, the family often benefited from her father’s finds, such as with go-carts given to him by a customer.
Warren intends to sell the piece and give the money to her mother, Barbara Conroy of Guilford, who plans to remodel her 50-year-old kitchen.
The Conroys were married 65 years, had five children and did everything together — including watching “Antiques Roadshow.” Warren said everything her father did was about the family. He died three years ago.
“My dad’s in heaven and he’s still taking care of my mother,” Warren said with a smile. “I wish my dad was alive — he’d get such a kick out of this.”
Arnold Conroy worked in construction all his life, including many jobs at Yale, where the dumpsters were worth checking out, Warren said.
Even when clearing a space for the university, the construction crews were encouraged by Yale to take what they wanted because it meant needing fewer dumpsters, she said.
Arnold Conroy found the etching in a frame with broken glass, but the etching wasn’t cut at all, Warren said.
Warren said because she was in the antiques business, friends and family often brought her items they believed might be special, and her father was no exception.
She put the etching away and her mother didn’t even know about it.
At the beginning of the show, which aired recently, there’s a teaser in which she tells Weyman the piece of art was found in a dumpster.
“Get out of here, really?” he responds.
In the segment, Warren tells Weyman her father found it in 1999 or 2000.
Weyman knew immediately that it was Zao’s signature in Chinese and launched into the artist’s history.
He said Zao was trained in China, but he and his wife moved to Paris in the late 1940s and he made a mark there, and later was influenced by European modernists such as Paul Clay and Picasso.
In 1957, Zao came to the United States — he has a brother in New Jersey — and pop art was “exploding on the scene,” but rather than pursue that style, Zao became influenced by mid-century abstract expressionists, Weyman explained on the show.
Zao later returned to Paris and began to create abstract paintings, lithographs and etchings, Weyman said.
Warren did some research on Zao after the show and learned he came from a wealthy family who embraced his choice to become an artist and went through many phases, using many mediums including water color and oil paints . Zao died in 2013 at age 93.
Warren said some of his paintings recently have sold for millions.
Warren said she first will try to sell the etching by advertising in the Newtown Bee and might consider selling at a high-end auction.
Barbara Conroy said she’s going to use the money to buy granite countertops, new cabinets and a dishwasher.
“Of course I’m shocked — I had no idea” about the etching, Barbara Conroy said. “I might as well spend a little.”
Conroy said her husband was always bringing stuff home and, “To me it was all junk.”
“But it’s funny because every time you needed anything,” he went in the shed and got it, she said.
The Conroys built their house from the ground up as a family all those years ago, the kids hammering nails on weekends.
Warren said getting tickets to appear on the show was a fluke in itself. She saw on Facebook that someone had tickets they couldn’t use, so she conveyed she’d take them. But the tickets had been claimed by a person who had replied before her.
Then, unexpectedly, the person in Virginia who got the tickets had a last-minute emergency because of a severe storm and couldn’t make the show. He contacted Warren and sent the tickets via overnight mail.
Warren said when she went into the item screening line at the show before being chosen to go on air, Weyman took one look at the etching and said, “Pretty great.”
Of the appraisal outcome, Warren said, “I was euphoric for my dad. He always thought about the family.”