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Collector finds noteworthy art

Don Bridell enlarged a photograph of the noteworthy oil painting he discovered at auction. (Jean Ruzicka / Enterprise)

n Don Bridell will make his television debut on the Antiques Roadshow in May following a serendipitous find at auction.

Don Bridell's garage and home attest to his penchant for rummage sales.

Between his home in St. Louis Park and his family's homestead on the Crow Wing River, he owns six antique sewing machines, hundreds of traps, restored boats and a miscellany of domestic treasures too numerous to calculate.

But the Nevis alum's experience with auctions is minimal.

The octogenarian had been to just a few when his brother, Ray, told him of a farm auction near Rogers in the fall of 2010. Don headed north from the metro to his brother's home, just a few blocks from the auction.

Don registered and received his auction number. His brother decided this to be unnecessary, but the "first thing he did was to see a roll of heavy plastic," Don said, and the auctioneer was soon bellowing "Sold!"

Ray headed off to stash his bargain in the back of his truck, and socialize with neighbors.

Don began exploring the goods that had once comprised a household. He strolled by wagons holding dishes and pots and pans and came upon a large box holding two pieces of artwork.

The work that caught his eye was relatively large in size, a panoramic coastal landscape. The piece was accompanied by a small oil painting depicting a farm in the Southwest, surrounded by mountains. The asking price for both: $5.

"What are you bidding on that junk for?" his brother teased when the two were reunited.

"Well, there's one I kind of like," Don confided.

'I did a stupid thing'

He headed home to the metro and mounted the seascape prominently above his fireplace.

Meanwhile, he'd learned the popular PBS "Antiques Roadshow" would be coming to Minneapolis in July.

The collector extraordinaire was curious about the worth of several items he'd accumulated through the years.

"I did a stupid thing," he confided to his friend (and Nevis alumna) Lois Demmon Cross.

Don contributed $500 to PBS and, in return, was given two tickets to the event at the Minneapolis Convention Center. Each ticket holder could bring two items for appraisal.

But local newspapers were cautioning even invited fans had a slim chance of being on the air. Only 90 of the thousands of items brought in would go before the TV cameras, and only a fraction of those would end up on the show that has aired in the United States since 1997, attracting 10 million viewers.

Undaunted, Don and Lois were first in line last summer, arriving on the convention center doorsteps at 6 a.m.

He was torn as to what to bring. Two stained glass windows he'd rescued in Rockford, Ill. were considered, but deterred by Lois, who deemed them to heavy to lug.

The artwork would go before the bevy of experts.

Once inside, they were introduced to an arts appraiser who told Don his portrait, ships sailing along the eastern seaboard, would likely earn $100-$200 at auction.

"But they didn't tell me about the other one until there were two cameras on us," Don said.

He was about to learn his "runt" was the pick of the litter.

'Keep your hat on'

"Mesa in New Mexico" had been created by Victor Higgins (1884-1949) in 1926. Don would spend nearly an hour on camera answering questions as to how he made the purchase and learning of the artist.

Higgins grew up on a farm in Indiana; the only art he knew was his father's flowers. At the age of 9, Higgins purchased paints and brushes and began painting the inside of his father's barn.

Higgins would paint and study in Europe, but he would decide America needed its own authentic style, rather than the 19th Century classic style he'd

learned abroad. Higgins would be credited with bringing modernism to realism.

In 1914, he traveled to Taos, an isolated village about 12 hours from Santa Fe on a dirt road. Higgins became a permanent resident and a member of a collection of artists who became the Taos art colony.

His work would come to be renowned worldwide, gaining awards both in the U.S. and Europe - and a dropped jaw and wide eyes from Don.

The Antiques Roadshow expert valued the oil on masonite work at a conservative $75,000.

"Wow!" he exclaimed, upon learning of the value, pulling off his Vikings hat.

"Keep your hat on," the crew urged, "You're from Minnesota. Keep it on."

TV debut in May

Heading home, Don shared his findings with Ray and wife Brenda, who

has connections with a gallery in New York City, Debra Force Fine Art. Brenda packaged the work and sent it off to the Big Apple.

The studio recommended cleaning the work, a $350 cost, and required a 20 percent commission, to which they agreed.

Within weeks, an individual from California purchased the artwork for $95,000, a check soon arriving in Don's mailbox for $76,650.

He's not sure yet what he'll spend it on, but just may develop a keener interest in auctions.

Don will make his television debut on the Antiques Roadshow in May.

The Minneapolis segments will air at 7 p.m. Mondays, May 7, 14 and 21. He's been told he'll appear, but not the specific date.

The photographs taken of the work - ironically, like the work itself - are misplaced.

Don made an enlarged print of the work, the original estimated at approximately 9 by 13-15 inches, but the location of the digital camera disc with the image is unknown.

The "original" - photo - may be lost to posterity.