bidding to save an artistic legacy

Bidding On A Legacy While It Can Still Be Seen

An auctioned painting helps reunite a daughter with an image of the mother she hardly knew

Diane Ormrod goes to lots of auctions. As an interior decorator, a dealer in vintage and modern furnishings, and co-owner of an upstate New York bed & breakfast, she has to. But she never thought an auction would be the occasion for a unique good turn like the one she found herself doing this past February.

Ormrod doesn’t just wave her paddle at any old auctioneer, of course — she does her research. At an auction preview, she’d spotted a painting that she thought she’d like to have for her businesses, an image of Trinity Church at the end of Wall Street in Manhattan’s financial district. She sought information online about the artist, Bonnie Brewster Wagner, but all she could find was a Facebook memorial page, created by the artist’s daughter.

Ormrod posted to the page that she had spotted the painting at auction, and was surprised at the reaction she got. The artist’s daughter was “completely blown away,” Ormrod says. “I think she was a little bit skeptical at the beginning. But she friended me on Facebook and we went back and forth and I found out the whole story.”

“She grew up not really knowing anything about her mother’s work. It really touched me because of my mum.”

The daughter, Tanya Wagner, was suffering from an aggressive case of glaucoma. Her mother had died when Tanya was five years old, and Tanya’s father rarely spoke of her. Most of Bonnie Wagner’s paintings were lost to the family, and as a result, Tanya now risked losing her sight before ever getting to lay eyes on the artistic legacy left behind by her mother.

“She grew up not really knowing anything about her mother’s work,” Ormrod says. “She’s now trying to find as many of her mother’s paintings as possible before she goes completely blind.”

“I said to her, I want to get this painting for you,” recalls Ormrod, a native of Liverpool, England. “It really touched me because of my mum.” (Ormrod’s mother had died the previous May.) “There was nothing at the auction I wanted, but I said, Give me a maximum and I’ll do whatever I can to get it for as little as I can. You never know with these auctions, sometimes they just go completely crazy.”

“My strategy in auctions is to just keep waiting it out. If the piece I want doesn’t come up, I don’t ask for it, I’m going to wait and going to wait, until the end when people start leaving, so there’s as little competition as I can get.” In this case, it took until the very end. “I’d been there since four o’clock and it was almost ten. I had butterflies in my stomach, I just wanted to get this so badly for her. It was one of the last pieces to come up, and it was just me and one other person bidding on it.”

Going… Going… “I ended up getting it for $55, which was amazing,” Ormrod says. “Earlier it probably would have gone for a lot more.”

Needless to say, Tanya Wagner was elated to get the news. “She said to me at one point, I feel like you were brought to me for a reason. And I connected to her needing to find this because my mum had just died. The whole exchange was very emotional,” Ormrod recalls.

Though Ormrod has taken possession of the painting, the pair have yet to meet. She offered to deliver the heirloom, but Wagner told her she prefers to visit Ormrod’s B&B. When that happens, it will be the culmination of a singular good turn, one that will provide both women with a closer connection not just to each other, but to the women who raised them, and who managed to leave them with such open hearts before they passed on.

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