Lawrence Joseph and Thomas Schultz were looking to make some extra cash in investment real-estate back in 2006. But as they cleaned out the garage of their new property, they stumbled upon a heap of old artwork that has now been appraised at $30 million.
"We just wanted to buy the cheapest cottage in Bellport, Long Island, and flip it, paint it white and sell it," said Schultz.
The pair had been prepared to gut the old home, which they bought for $300,000, until they found a collection of work by American artist Arthur Pinajian, an obscure abstract expressionist who made his living drawing for comic books and died in 1999.
Schultz had been instructed to throw the entire collection away by Pinajian's family, the home's previous owners. The painter had written a letter to Pinajian's sister, with instructions to chuck the artwork in the dumpster when he died.
But once Schultz saw what was in the garage, he knew he could not follow the family's directions. "I recognized right away that it was created by just one person. I decided at that moment that I was not going to throw away the work. I said, 'Larry, I'm not going to throw this out. I'm not going to put a man's artwork in the dumpster,'" said Schultz.
The two placed the collection, which includes 7,000 works - paintings, journals, sketch books and letters - spanning for 50 years into storage for six months.
They then invited American art expert Peter Hastings Falk, who had appraised Andy Warhol's work in a number of trial cases, along with other experts, to view the collection. According to Schultz, Falk thought the work was as good as, if not better than, most of the other American artists at the time. Falk is now chief curator for the Pinajian works.
According to Schultz, Pinajian's journals suggest that the painter did not want to be bothered with marketing his own work. In the journals, Pinajian wrote that he was frustrated with the little recognition he had received and that he thought his work was better than other abstract expressionist artists of the time.
Pinajian's work is currently being sold at Stephanie's Fine Art, near Los Angeles. So far over 50 pieces have been sold, selling from $20,000 to $40,000 each. Experts recently estimated that the whole collection, if sold at appraisal value, could be worth $30 million.
Today Schultz and Josephs are still a team, but not in investment real-estate. Joseph is the full owner of the collection and Schultz is the register of the estate. Since the discovery, Schultz has opened up his own gallery in Bellport to showcase Pinajian's work, as well as works of other artists. Schultz and Josephs never did sell the property, and Schultz and his family currently live in the bungalow.
"It seems to have been this price that was placed on the collection, that has everyone excited," said Schultz. "But what I think is important is how important this collection is to American art history."