The Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland usually finds new homes for cats, dogs and other pets. But a unique donation of 47 paintings valued at least at $70,000 has the refuge league seeking owners for artwork.

The collection came from an anonymous donor and features work from a variety of well-known Maine artists. The pieces will be sold during a three-day summer auction event at Thomaston Place Auction Center in Thomaston to benefit the Westbrook animal shelter. The gift is one of the most valuable that the nonprofit has received this year.

“It’s a significant donation of art,” said Patsy Murphy, executive director of the Animal Refuge League. “This gift allows us to invest in ourselves and invest in the future for the work that we do.”

Murphy declined to name the benefactor or provide any details about the person because he or she wants to remain anonymous. This is the largest gift that person has given to the Animal Refuge League.

Most of the paintings are contemporary pieces that depict Maine’s natural landscapes and ocean scenes, although one painting of Portland Harbor dates back to the 19th century. The individual pieces are valued between $400 and $4,000.

“It’s really noteworthy that it’s such an amazing collection by a diverse number of Maine painters,” said Carol Achterhof, an auctioneer and cataloger at Thomaston Place. “It’s rare you’re going to find such a diverse and large collection in one place. It’s kind of a one-stop shop if you are looking for Maine art.”

The artists include names such as Connie Hayes, Marsha Donahue, Eric Hopkins, Leo Brooks and William Thon. While many of these artists are still living and creating new work, Achterhof said the auction also is an opportunity to purchase paintings by artists who have died. Brooks passed away in 1993; Thon died in 2000 and is also known for bequeathing $4 million to the Portland Museum of Art.

“Some of these paintings are really special,” Achterhof said.

Discussions about the donation began while the Animal Refuge League was building its new 25,000-square-foot shelter, which opened last year behind its former home on Stroudwater Street. The shelter previously operated in three separate buildings with a combined 12,000 square feet. The new location brought all operations under one roof with modern features such as a surgical center, isolation rooms for sick animals and outdoor play areas.

Annually, the nonprofit handles about 3,000 adoptions and returns about 1,000 lost pets to their owners.

“The conversation started around the time we finished construction of the new building, when we were talking about the interior of the building and our desire to have a clean, contemporary welcoming space for the animals,” Murphy said.

The shelter itself wasn’t quite the right home for paintings worth hundreds or thousands of dollars, however.

“The thought of cat hair and dog hair and dander on these paintings was problematic,” Murphy said.

So they turned to the Thomaston Place Auction Galleries.

The Animal Refuge League began working with the gallery six years ago, and an auctioneer from Thomaston Place handles bidding at the yearly Fur Ball, the nonprofit’s biggest fundraiser. The donated paintings will be part of a three-day summer auction event, which will include more than 1,400 items.

Bidding will start at 11 a.m. Friday. The first 46 pieces on the block will be from the Animal Refuge League collection, and the final painting – the 1880s painting of Portland Harbor by Franklin Stanwood – will be available on the second day. Bidding can take place in person, over the phone or online, and more information is available at thomastonauction.com.

The paintings are on display in the gallery in Thomaston, which is open Monday through Friday. The collection can also be viewed online and in the printed gallery catalog.

“I think it’ll be a combination of private buyers who want to have something nice in their homes, and we’ll probably also see some dealers and galleries,” Achterhof said.

The proceeds from the paintings will go in part to the Animal Refuge League operating budget, which is $2.5 million annually. It will also pay for special projects, such as the repurposing of the old shelter on Stroudwater Street. The Animal Refuge League currently uses the building for storage, but it plans to expand its training and behavior department in that space.

“There are creative and innovative ways for nonprofits to receive gifts like this,” Murphy said. “It’s about being open and hearing your donors, having conversations with your supporters, checking in and really planning for the future.”

Megan Doyle can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: megan_e_doyle

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