THOMASTON — If you covet an Andrew Wyeth watercolor, this might be your best chance. All you need is $50,000 or so.

Wyeth’s modest painting of an island cabin surrounded by swallows is the centerpiece of a weekend auction of traditional and contemporary Maine art at Thomaston Place Auction Galleries. More than 200 paintings by 105 Maine artists are on the block.

The bulk of the art comes from the former MBNA headquarters in Belfast, although Wyeth’s watercolor-and-ink “Island Cabin with Swallows” is offered by a private individual.

Thomaston Place owner and auctioneer Kaja Veilleux characterized the sale as the largest volume of contemporary Maine art in years, if ever. “We’ve been trying to promote living Maine artists for a long time, and this is our most ambitious effort to date,” he said. “It’s like going to the museum, only you get to buy stuff.”

His assessment is not hyperbole. The auction includes many artists whose paintings, prints and sculptures populate museums across Maine and across the country: Neil Welliver, Robert Indiana, Will Barnet, Stephen Pace, Dahlov Ipcar, William Thon, Lois Dodd, Alex Katz and Stephen Etnier.

There’s sculpture by Cabot Lyford and Barry Norling and paintings by Jill Hoy, Eric Hopkins, Leo Brooks, Phil Barter, Alan Bray, Abby Shahn and others.

All week, the paintings have been hung salon-style in the auction house along Route 1, a converted chicken barn that may be more crowded now than it was when it housed birds. The floors are covered with old wooden furniture, grandfather clocks, ship models and monumental garden statues. The paintings are hung throughout, covering nearly every available space on the walls in what might appear a haphazard manner. This isn’t a curated museum show, but rather a collection of mismatched art that represents a century of painting and collecting in Maine.

For fans of Maine art, it’s a bonanza of color and mood. There are seascapes, landscapes, portraits and abstracts.


About 75 of the paintings and other artwork came from MBNA, the former credit card operator that had offices on the midcoast. MBNA President Chuck Cawley opened a regional marketing center for the credit card giant, near where his family had spent its summer vacations. Cawley collected art and filled the offices in Belfast with works that interested him, mostly representational Maine painters.

MBNA was acquired by Bank of America nine years ago, and Veilleux said Thomaston Place was contracted to sell the art that accompanied the sale. The Thomaston Place sale represents the MBNA collection and not Cawley’s personal collection, Veilleux noted. Cawley could not be reached to comment about the sale.

The sale begins Saturday with furniture, artifacts and paintings from the 19th and early 20th centuries. The contemporary art, including the Wyeth, will be sold on Sunday.

There’s a lot more than art here, too. Among the auction items is a bottle of cognac from 1811, ballet slippers signed by Rudolf Nureyev and a baseball signed by the 1957 Brooklyn Dodgers.

Veilleux estimated the auction would net between $2.5 million and $3.5 million. That range is an educated guess, he said, noting that there are always surprises on either end of the spectrum. There are no minimum reserves on the MBNA collection or most of the other paintings. “We have paintings that are worth $10,000, $15,000 or $20,000, but they may go for as little as $3,000 or $4,000,” he said. “We hope not, but it’s possible.”


Many paintings are valued at $3,000 or less.

The value of the Wyeth watercolor is $40,000 to $60,000. It came from a family in New Hampshire, which acquired it in 1952. It’s not clear when Wyeth made the painting.

The family and the Wyeths were close friends, and the painting came as a gift when the father retired.

Veilleux expects most of the buzz on Sunday, because contemporary Maine art is hot these days. A lot of younger people are getting into the art market, he said, and they tend to be drawn to current work because it is generally more affordable, among other reasons.

He credited Cawley for supporting Maine artists and instilling a sense of art appreciation in his employees. “Charley has a fantastic eye, and the people who worked there had all this great art in their faces every day,” he said.

For Veilleux, this weekend represents something of a marathon. He’s the auctioneer and faces two very long days. He has nearly 1,400 lots to sell, and he expects big crowds. By midweek, more than 500 people had visited Thomaston Place to preview the sale and look at paintings.

Bidding will take place in person, by phone and over the Internet.

“I’ll be going as fast as I can,” he said. “It’s like the guys who do rock concerts. They play very hard, and they’re not tired until the next day. But they can take food and potty breaks. I can’t.”

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