September 21, 2007


Marathon auctioneer sells rare painting

1860s painting by Canandaigua-born artist John Mix Stanley had been kept in Ithaca home


Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Antique dealer Gary Wilcox, owner of Riverbend Antinques in Marathon, recently sold a rare painting for $750,000.

Staff Reporter

MARATHON — A Marathon auctioneer recently sold a mid-1860s painting by Canandaigua-born artist John Mix Stanley for $750,000.
While Jerry Wilcox, owner of Marathon Auction Sales & Services, received only a percentage of the sale, which he prefers not to disclose, it is enough to make his career.
“This is a high point in my life,” Wilcox, a 63-year-old Marathon resident, said Wednesday from his other business, Riverbend Antiques Center in Marathon.
He announced the news last week.
Wilcox sold the oil portrait of an American Indian titled “The Sentinel,” to a buyer in Arizona at an auction at Marathon Auction Sales & Services on Aug. 4.
The buyer was one of 10 bidders, including one from Montana, three from New York and one from the Bahamas, he said.
The sellers of the painting, two brothers from Ithaca, could not believe the level of interest in the painting, Wilcox said.
“I thought the guy was going to have a heart attack,” he said about one of the brothers.
Wilcox declined to reveal the names of the sellers and the buyers. In the art world, he said, owners of expensive art prefer to remain anonymous to protect themselves from possible thefts.
Linda Aprea, a writer for “The Antiquer’s Guide to New York and Northeast PA,” was at the sale.
She called the event “one of the most exciting moments to be experienced locally … possibly ever in our lifetimes,” in an article published in the guide’s September edition.
Wilcox said he gained an idea of the painting’s worth when a New York City gallery offered him $250,000 dollars to take the well conserved painting out of the auction.
“So that stuck in my mind,” he said.
Ten years ago he had researched the painting’s value when he was helping the family in Ithaca reduce the size of its estate. At that point it was worth between $40,000 and $50,000, he said.
“There’s a new interest in American art,” Wilcox said, explaining the painting’s increase in value.
“The Sentinel” artist John Mix Stanley was born in Canandaigua in 1914 and moved to Detroit in 1934 to work as a sign painter. After catching the eye of a Detroit artist and receiving art training from him, he joined the military during the Mexican War, and was placed in the Corps of Topographical Engineers, where he helped map a trail west to California.
He spent 10 years chronicling his travels, painting historical portraits of dozens of Native American tribes. The majority of his works were lost in three separate fires, including one at the Smithsonian Institution destroying 150 of his paintings.
“The Sentinel,” had been missing from the art world for more than 100 years, Wilcox said, prompting a gallery in Los Angeles to ask Wilcox if he was sure the painting was not a fake.
Wilcox determined it was in fact the original. While it is clear the painting had been sent to Germany in 1968 to be chromolithographed, it is not clear when it came back to the United States, how it came back or how the Ithaca brothers’ grandparents acquired it in 1947. “They’re not sure,” he said about the brothers.
The painting’s rarity surely contributes to its value, Wilcox said, as well as its detail. Another painting of the same Native American in a Los Angeles gallery painted by Stanley does not have eagles flying around in the background and an extra red feather in the Native American’s bonnet, he said.
Wilcox said what struck him the most about the painting is its beauty and warmth.
“It was a painting you just wanted to hug,” _he said.
But with or without the painting, Wilcox is thrilled about his recent sale. He believes it helps prove small-town auction companies can compete with big name companies in bigger cities.
“The Internet makes the difference,” he said. “You do your homework.”



Key questions remain after special session

Staff Reporter

A special legislative session Thursday failed to yield anticipated answers on two key questions: a new site for the county’s motor vehicle office and the Legislature’s response to a judge’s ruling that the county breached a contract by backing out of an agreement to purchase property on south Main Street.
Discussion of the motor vehicles site was conducted, as expected, in executive session.
Legislators did not narrow down a list of four potential sites, instead opting to pursue purchase options on all four properties and, once prices for the properties are locked in, discuss the options publicly before making a final decision.
Meanwhile discussion of how the Legislature should respond to the lawsuit was delayed until the Legislature’s regular Sept. 27 meeting. State Supreme Court Justice Phillip Rumsey’s ruled against the county Sept. 6 in a lawsuit brought by the Moose Lodge.
Legislators said after the meeting they were hoping to receive more information prior to the Sept. 27 meeting on the potential cost of accepting Rumsey’s ruling and negotiating settlements with the Moose Lodge and other property owners involved in the $894,000 land deal who have also pursued legal action.
“We just don’t have a lot of the hard numbers yet,” said Legislator Kay Breed (R-Cortlandville). “I think that was the problem with this thing in the first place, we moved forward without knowing all the facts, so I’m fine with waiting until we have all the information.”
Rumsey did not rule on what was owed to the Moose Lodge for the breach of contract, but Russ Ruthig, attorney for the Moose Lodge, has suggested that his clients, who have since received another purchase offer for $200,000, would be willing to settle for $50,000 — the difference between that offer and the county’s original offer of $250,000 — plus various legal expenses.
At a meeting of the Budget and Finance Committee Thursday morning, County Attorney Ric Van Donsel was asked how much, in light of Rumsey’s ruling, it would cost the county to make amends with the various property owners involved.
Van Donsel, drawing from settlement offers received at different junctures from various property owners, suggested a cost of roughly $200,000. But after Thursday night’s session, he said “the biggest unknown piece,” is the outstanding lawsuit filed by Charles and Michael Wood, owners of the Robbins Vending property at 159 Main St.

Potential settlement costs

Moose Lodge, 158 Main St. The county originally agreed to pay $250,000 for the property. Since the county backed out of the deal, the Moose Lodge received a purchase offer from McNeil Development for $200,000, and has indicated it will accept damages of $50,000, plus legal fees and back taxes, from the county.
Robbins Vending, 159 Main St. The county originally agreed to pay $300,000 for the property owned by Charles and Michael Wood. Dirk Oudemool, attorney for the Woods, originally offered a settlement figure of $120,000, but Oudemool has since said he needs to calculate true damages.
8 Randall St. The county originally agreed to pay $96,000 for the property. Since the county backed out of the deal, owner Annamaria Maniaci sold her home for $9,000 more than the county had agreed to pay, however she claims in a lawsuit the county’s retreat from the original deal cost her $13,000 in various expenditures, and is asking the county to pay the $4,000 difference.
6 Randall St. The county originally agreed to pay $73,000 for the property owned by Steve Lissberger, who when contacted by County Attorney Ric Van Donsel about a settlement prior to the argument of the Moose Lodge case, gave Van Donsel a settlement figure of $12,000, Van Donsel said.
9 William St. The county has not received any request for this property owned by Mark and Linda Abbatiello.
11 William St. The county originally agreed to pay $90,000 for the property of James and Yvonne Cole. Once Rumsey’s ruling was handed down, attorney Russ Ruthig, who represents both the Coles and the Moose Lodge, made an offer to Van Donsel offering to accept damages of $20,000 from the county.



Renovated Homer library to open Oct. 1

Fourth phase of $1.3 million project nears completion

Staff Reporter

HOMER — A $1.3 million project to renovate the Phillips Free Library on South Main Street is almost complete, with the library ready to open its doors to the public Oct. 1.
The library closed its temporary location at 11 Water St., which had been the library’s home since February, on Sept. 13. The temporary facility allowed for the fourth and biggest phase of the renovations.
Fourth phase additions included a mezzanine in the back of the library’s main room, a bigger children’s room on the east side of the building, wheelchair-accessible elevator and a finished basement that includes a special collections room, book sales room, meeting room and tutoring room.
Other additions include improvements to the original wood floors, drop ceilings, new shelves, two wheelchair-accessible bathrooms, a kitchenette for staff and a new heating, ventilation and air condition system.
Also, asbestos was removed from the library, the main reason the library had to move to Water Street rather than using its basement during the fourth phase.
Renovations to the library began four years ago, said Cindy Teter, vice president of the library board.
Phases one through three included construction of a wheelchair ramp on the south side of the building, exterior masonry work and storm windows for the main reading room, she said.
A planned future phase will involve the purchase and placement of furniture, she said.
So far the library board has raised around $750,000 of the $1.3-million cost of renovations, including $520,000 in grants, mostly state grants, $62,000 from community and private organizations, $70,000 from library board of trustees and steering committee and $100,000 in other community contributions.
The board anticipates getting another $65,000 grant, and hopes to raise the remaining $500,000 or so through donations from the public.
Teter said the board will be asking the town, village and school district for more money than usual come budget time. Since Sept. 14, volunteers and library staff have been moving books back to the Main Street location and shelving them, said to Priscilla Berggren, the library’s new director.
Between 12 and 15 people helped out Sept. 14 while 20 to 25 people helped out Saturday, including the Homer girls soccer team and the Homer Boy Scouts, she said. This weekend volunteers plan to move children’s books to the Main Street location.
Berggren, an East Homer resident who has worked at the library as a clerk for the past three years, became interim director in mid-July after director Kathy Hughes left the library.
Teter said Hughes left her position following a mutual decision by her and the board.




Virgil gas station proposal scrutinized

County Planning Board questions project’s potential impact on aquifer, Webb Road traffic

Staff Reporter

Plans to build a convenience store gas station on the corner of Webb Road and Route 13 in Virgil failed to receive the approval of the county Planning Board Wednesday night.
The board, signaling reservations with the project, opted to return the project to the town of Virgil for local determination, rather than formally back the project, which had been recommended by county Planning Director Dan Dineen.
The board’s decision won’t necessarily hold up the project — it can go forward as long as a number of conditions outlined by the board are met and the town gives its approval, Dineen said — but the board was reluctant to stamp it with an “approval” due to concerns with the impact the gas station might have on the aquifer and on traffic, particularly along Webb Road.
“Returning for local determination is still approving it, as long as all of those conditions are met, but the board felt ‘approval’ was a little bit strong,” Dineen said.
The site plan for the project, proposed by Cortland-based Empress Development, included a 2,000-square-foot convenience store on a 2-acre lot southeast of the corner of Webb Road and Route 13.
The plan also calls for an island containing four pumps and the proposed station would pump both gasoline and diesel fuel.
Drivers would access the site from Webb Road through a two-way driveway 300 feet from its intersection with Route 13.
Board member Ann Hotchkin immediately expressed concerns with the fact that the site lies over the area’s sole source aquifer.
“I’m curious how this compares in terms of sensitivity (to the aquifer) with the project on Lime Hollow and Route 13,” Hotchkin said, referring to a proposed gas station at that intersection that was rejected by the Cortlandville Town Board because of threats to the aquifer.
Dineen said the primary difference between that project and the Webb Road proposal is that the travel time of groundwater from Webb Road to the aquifer recharge areas along Route 13 in Cortlandville is significantly longer — Dineen guessed 20 years — than the Lime Hollow site, which was estimated at about six months.
Still, board members were concerned about potential impacts on the aquifer.
“I think this whole thing is bad news … it’s over the aquifer, that’s number one,” said Marcia Carlson. “And I know some of the people out in Virgil are beside themselves about this.”
The Virgil Planning Board will hold a public hearing on the project at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 24.



McGraw funds after school program

Staff Reporter

McGRAW — The Board of Education discussed the fate of an after school program Wednesday night that had been fully funded through a federal grant.
The board approved paying six tutors $21 an hour for the program after Superintendent of Schools Maria S. Fragnoli-Ryan explained that the district has $80,000 from the 21st Century grant that must be spent by the end of November. She said the positions would be abolished if the program were cut.
The board had also allocated $75,000 in the budget for the program.
Tony Opera, vice president of the board, had suggested that this money be reallocated, hence cutting the program, to cover shortfalls in revenue projections.
Fragnoli-Ryan said the program serves 53 students.
Board President Michelle Stauber questioned whether the board would want to eliminate the program.
“Let’s see where we are Dec. 1,” suggested board member Bill Hakes. He said the board could review what state aid it receives by Dec. 1 and then make a decision.
He said he did not like the idea of cutting the program, but if a drastic cut had to be done, the after school program would be the thing to cut.
Interim High School Principal Mike Doughty reported that a committee would be looking into the possibility of eliminating 10th period and making the other nine periods longer.
The period had been used as a study time. Doughty said many teachers would prefer eliminating it and lengthening the rest of the class periods.