When Ruthi went to the Salvation Army that day, she was just looking for something to cheer up a friend of hers. She saw an enormous piece of art that she thought to herself wasn’t anything special, in fact, she remarked to herself it was kind of “messy looking.” She thought it would be the perfect joke to make her friend laugh, and so she purchased it for a bargain. What she didn’t know is that this “joke” would end up changing the course of her whole life, because many experts believe it is a missing piece from world famous artist Jackson Pollock. Ruthi thought she had won the jackpot! But she would soon find out the art world is difficult and elite and they did not want to welcome Ruthi into their inner circle. But she would not be made a fool, and what she did caused an uproar among art collectors around the world.
Looking At The Thrift Shop
It was another regular day for Ruthi who normally enjoys thrift shopping. But today the retired truck driver had a special mission to find something today at the shop. She was looking for something fun or interesting to buy for her friend who had just gone through a breakup.
Ruthi didn’t know exactly what she was looking for at first, but she came to the household section and while she was flipping through stacks of old paintings, she saw standing on the wall an enormous painting, several feet high and she knew right away that this was the perfect thing to get for her friend.
A “Gag” Gift
“I saw this huge picture with paint all over it, but no picture there really. Just a bunch of lines. I’ll be honest, it was ugly! To me, a painting needs to have something to look at, not just a bunch of colors.” Also, there was the fact that it was a very large painting, which made Ruthi think it would be a great joke.
It didn’t have a price tag and Ruthi approached the counter to ask how much it was. “The clerk didn’t even look up! And she told me $8,” Ruthi remembers. “But I said no way. I’ll give you $5, and I was ready to walk away. I love a good bargain and I didn’t want to spend that much on a gag gift.
A Little Truck Driver
Ruthi is a retired long-haul truck driver, and she says that she owes her feisty personality to working in a male-dominated profession all her life, although it’s hard to say if she went into the job in the first place because it suited her personality so well.
On her trucking routes is when she first discovered her love of shopping at antique shops and thrift shops she would find along the way. “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure!” She says with a glint in her eye. Although in this case, what she found that day was nothing but treasure.
A Little Present
The clerk called the manager and the manager agreed to let her have it for $5. Triumphant and already laughing at what her friend would say when she saw it, she and some shop workers loaded up the painting into her pickup truck, and she drove straight to her friend’s house.
When she arrived she knocked on her friend’s door with a huge smile on her face. The first thing she said was “I have a little present for you,” and took her friend by the hand to her pickup truck to see it. Her friend took one look and said “A little something!? Where am I gona put this!”
A Sense Of Humor
“But I didn’t want to offend her… So, of course, I said “oh thank you for thinking of me, it’s beautiful… Let’s take it inside.” So the women got to work to bring it from the truck to the front door, but they were in for an even more comical surprise when they reached the door to her house.
“The thing wouldn’t fit through the door!” Said Ruthi with a laugh. That’s when she fessed up and told her friend that it was meant to be a joke and she wouldn’t be hurt if they just threw the painting away. Little did they know then that one of Jackson Pollocks works sold for 150 million dollars.
How To Get Rid Of It
Ruthi always had a good sense of humor and enjoyed making her friends smile. But the joke was over and now they had to decide how to get rid of it, since it wouldn’t even fit into the house! They went with the most obvious solution, which was to have a yard sale. Who knows maybe she could even get her $5 back.
So Ruthi organized a garage sale because she wanted to make some extra cash anyway, and she put the painting out in the yard and waited for someone to make an offer. Many friends and neighbors came by, and then by a stroke of luck, Ruthi’s friend who is also an art history teacher dropped by to say hello.
The Luckiest Woman Alive
If it hadn’t been for her friend, she may have just left the priceless painting out in the yard to get ruined by the rain. But the teacher’s attention was caught right away, and she stepped in for a closer look at the large painting. She studied it for a long while, running her fingers over it.
Finally, she called Ruthi over and said something that would change her life. She said, “Ruthi I’m no expert… But there’s a chance that this is an original Jackson Pollock. You can’t take that chance.” Ruthi’s famous response was, “who the heck is Jackson Pollock?!”
Don’t Take Any Chances
But her friend was so insistent and refused to let Ruthi sell the painting until she had it appraised by an art dealer. She took it to a famous art appraiser and to her shock, he did not dismiss the possibility that it was an original. The weight of what that could mean left Ruthi dizzy. If the painting was real, this would change her life forever.
As with all art appraisals, it went through several stages of authentication. Based on the paint type, age of the canvas, analysis of the paint strokes, it was determined that this very well could be an original Jackson Pollock, but due to the way that Ruthi had found the painting, further evidence was demanded, but everything was pointing towards it being real.
Hit The Jackpot?
The bottom line is Pollock’s work is concretely timeless and awe-inspiring. His work is worth so much money because he changed the way we think of art itself. his work may not be traditionally pretty. But it, not only art, but it’s also art history.
All his works are owned by museums except one, Name “No.5, 1948” which sold for $140 million dollars. (For a time, No. 5, 1948 was the world’s most expensive painting.) If it was real, then this was better than any lottery ticket that Ruthi could have purchased.
Ruthi was sure that her financial troubles were over forever! But what happened next would not only leave her shocked and confused but would catch the attention of news agencies around the country. She was interviewed by Jay Leno and they even made a full-length documentary about it.
Her case was so unusual, she had caused a firestorm of controversy in the art world, and it really came down to different classes in American, and people were not able to accept that a simple truck driver had lucked onto such a valuable find. Some important art collectors were starting to say the didn’t believe it was real.
We Need Proof
They decided that she needed to provide a full history of ownership of the painting in order for it to be accepted as a genuine Pollock, this is something that hardly ever required to prove a painting is real. But since she had come by it in unusual circumstances, she was forced to comply.
She had several other forensic and art specialists come to analyze the painting. They determined it was likely an original, because he used to throw out a lot of his art, and his brother lived nearby so it was very plausible that it would end up at goodwill.
Science Is On Her Side
It also came down to new science being pitted against old-fashioned institution where art is validated based on the gut feeling of an elite few. they were judgemental from the moment she walked into the art gallery, simply because of her age and how she dresses. They said they didn’t think the painting was an original based on little more than “gut feeling” But science was on her side.
New evidence arose that the artist’s fingerprints were found on the frame! But the art “experts” wouldn’t accept the evidence. One said, “fingerprints, all this stuff, is kind of that lovely ‘what if.’ It’s not essential to the heart and the artistic soul of the thing, and that has no Pollock soul or heart.”
They Exposed Their Own Opinion
However still others threw doubt on the authenticity of the painting, It was an uproar in the art world. It was like they were trying to convince her that it wasn’t real just so she would give it up easy. But the proof is told by what they did next. He dismisses Horton even more cavalierly, since, in his words, he is the expert and she knows nothing.
First, she was told that the painting wasn’t real, and then people from the same circles turned around and did something that exposed how they truly felt. Someone made her an offer for the painting. these people clearly wanted the painting for themselves.
The First Offer
The Offer was $2 million dollars, and considering what the painting would actually be worth if it was an original, was simply insulting to Ruthi’s intelligence. The offer didn’t make any sense. If the painting was a fake it was worth nothing, yet here they were offering her real money for it.
Ruthi recalls, “it felt like they were just saying to me, ‘take the two million and just go away. We don’t want your low-education around here anymore.” But Ruthi is no push-over. One of her friends said, “she may be tiny, but she was a long-haul truck driver, she knows how to handle herself.”
A Slightly Better Offer
With some new information about the painting, came a new offer to buy it. A private investigator finally discovered how the painting might have ended up in a thrift shop in California. There was evidence that someone had sent the famous No. 5, 1948 to be “repaired” by Pollock and the artist just painted a new one instead of bothering to fix it.
It is suspected that this that Ruthi bought is the painting that is the original No. 5, 1948. This is based on markings in the corner, that Pollock was evidently supposed to fix. A new offer was made for $9 million dollars.
It would seem the art collectors thought they could outsmart Ruthi and tempt her into accepting a lowball offer because she needed the money maybe she would be desperate enough to accept it. They were shutting her out, saying based on “feelings” they didn’t think it was really real, but then offering her $9 million for it.
But Just because she only had an 8th-grade education does not mean that Ruthi was going to fall for their tricks, or that she was going to stand the injustice that they were doing. She was not going to sell it for one reason, and that reason wasn’t really about the money.
Living On A Shoestring
Years went by and she still refused to sell the painting, even though she was living in a trailer. Forensic science may be starting to push the old tradition from its lofty perch in the art authentication world, but you can’t change centuries of tradition in an instant, and for now, the old ways still rule.
Ruthi just decided that it was more important to her to make a point on behalf of all the regular folks out there, that nobody should let themselves get talked-down to by people who think they’re better. This was one of the reasons, the other reason would become clear only later.
What Is All The Fuss About?
Some people look at the painting (which Ruthi herself called ugly) and wonder what all the fuss is about, how can something so seemingly random demand so many millions of dollars. The answer is quite simple, it comes down to economics. All of Pollock’s paintings in what is called the ‘drip series’ (which is Pollock’s trademark) are safely guarded in museums, all except the No.5, 1948, which is held by a private collector.
The paintings hanging in the museum exhibits never get sold to private parties, which leads to a lack of supply in the market so that only an exorbitant price can buy one of the precious items. Pieces like this are not only a good investment that will hold their value, but more importantly a status symbol worth exhibiting on the walls of someone influential.
Judgement On Her Choices
Many have told her she should have taken the 9 million and been done with the whole thing, even though it could be worth 10x more than that. But until the elitist people who wanted to buy it from her gave her a reasonable offer, she was not going to give it up.
This was a fine sentiment, and it would, of course, take a will of iron to resist the offer of $9 million dollars and stick to your good values, but she had a secret reason that she wasn’t selling the painting, one that had made it easy for her to stay true to herself all these years, even when everyone told her to sell it.
Forced To Panhandle
In the 25 years that have gone by since she brought the painting home, her rent has risen steadily with inflation from $250-$1000 and her pension payment is only $925 dollars a month, not quite enough to cover the rent now. She sometimes resorts to panhandling on the streets to make up the difference. “Yes it’s embarrassing but I earned my own way in this world, and that’s what I’m going to keep doing until the day I die.”
So even with all these hardships in life, what has kept her all these years from selling the painting? Because even an unfair price would buy her a comfortable retirement, and she wouldn’t have to worry about money ever again and would even have a good inheritance to leave to her children.
The Real Reason She Never Sold The Painting
The one secret reason that keeps her resolution strong, even when she can barely put food on the table actually started when she first learned about the artist all those years ago. When her friend told her she might have a genuine Jackson Pollock, she didn’t even know who the man was.
But over the years, she now is as good an expert as any on the history, life, and personality of the famous artist whose life was cut short by a car accident. And there one thing that she learned about him not only by reading about him in history books and in his interviews.
‘I learned it From Jackson’
“This painting I once thought was ugly has taught me something about life.” She says, “and this is why I will never sell the painting for a penny less than what it is worth.” Though his drip paintings may not be accessible, perhaps there really is something universally mystical that has made his work so timeless.
“I truly believe I have been influenced by Pollock…” She says. “Which is funny because I used to think art was kind of silly, I didn’t much see the point of it. I couldn’t see why people would go through so much trouble for something my grandson could have painted. But I realized that isn’t true at all.”
What Ruthi Learned From The Painting
In everything written about Pollock, from his wife and also from his friends, he was a man who firmly believed in his morals, and was willing to fight for them. He actually never knew fame and fortune. His work only became famous after his death, and he died pennilessly.
Ruthi has learned from the painting to honor the spirit of the artist and following in his footsteps to make a statement about the elite class in America and make sure that justice is served. Pollock’s friend said one specific thing that stuck with Ruthi forever.
Honoring The Artist’s Final Wishes
He said that Pollock would never sell a canvas for less than the thousands he thought it was worth. Even when he was hungry and couldn’t pay to keep his house heated, he had such a strong sense of right and wrong, he refused to sell his paintings to people who were trying to pick them up cheap.
So through some cosmic fate, the two have ended up in parallel situations and Ruthi is staying true to the artist’s wishes. She is currently offering the painting at a starting price of 50,000 USD, and it is hanging on her wall in the meantime, she eventually got it through the door.