In 2017, Jared Whipple, a skateboarder and a mechanic in rural Connecticut, got a call from a contractor buddy who'd been hired to clean out an old barn. "He just said, 'Jared, nobody's been in there in, like, 40 years!"
When Whipple and his friend, George Martin, arrived at the barn, they found a giant, 40-yard dumpster, full of artwork. "Jam-packed with art, from front to back," Martin said.
"Every piece you see is individually thick plastic, with dust and dirt," said Whipple.
But as they unwrapped the paintings, something clicked: "And I'm just like, 'Man, this stuff! Who is this guy?'" Whipple exclaimed.
Correspondent David Pogue asked, "Were there signatures on them?"
"There're signatures on every one! 'F. Hines.' So, we're Googling and we're Googling, and nothing's coming up. Nothing."
Finally, a lucky break, when they uncovered a small painting from 1961, signed Francis Mattson Hines. "So, now we have a whole name," said Whipple. "All right, here we go, Mr. Google! Mr. Google, where are we at?"
Mr. Google revealed that in 1980, artist Francis Hines had wrapped New York's Washington Square Arch in fabric. "At that point it's like, 'This guy's famous. Why is it in the dumpster? Can't figure it out!"
Whipple became consumed by the mystery of Francis Hines: "I was obsessed with the research. Every day, whether I'm at work, whether I'm home."
The first breakthrough was an old book he found on eBay, a biography. "It was a treasure trove," said Whipple. "It was his family, it was his friends."
It turned out that Hines was born in 1920, grew up in Cleveland, served in World War II, and became an illustrator for department store ads.
According to Peter Hastings Falk, an art historian and publisher, "Francis Hines had his 15 minutes of fame in 1980, when he wrapped the Washington Square Arch."
"And he did JFK terminal. He was in the Port Authority bus station. He stands distinctly as the only artist to ever wrap a building in New York."
As Hines himself said, almost every piece of his artwork involves tension: "All of the energy occurs within that tension."
Below: A video on Francis Hines' metal sculptures, narrated by the artist (YouTube):
But then, Francis Hines disappeared. According to Falk, "Francis really retired to his studio, essentially. He cared about one thing: creating every day."
As he said in this 2011 YouTube video, "I just love the process of making art!"
Whipple said, "He would create all this art in New York, and then truck it to the barn, 'cause that was his storage facility. And just keep fillin' it, and fillin' it, and fillin' it, and fillin' it, and just forgetting about it."
Hines died in 2016 at age 96. But Jared was determined to resurrect his reputation. He began calling New York art galleries. "I got so many doors shut in my face," he said.
"Is this a snob thing?" Pogue asked.
"I don't know. Maybe I got a wrong etiquette. I'm a little old-school, and I'm blue collar."
Finally, he met Peter Hastings Falk, who agreed to help. "I was really impressed. I mean, I was blown away by the originality that I saw," Falk said.
Pogue asked, "Is there value to these paintings?"
"Yes, it's well into the millions of dollars, once all is said and done."
In May, the Hollis Taggart Gallery will exhibit the dumpster treasures in Southport, Connecticut; they're likely to sell for over $20,000 apiece. And by agreement with the Hines family, most of the art belongs to Jared Whipple.
Pogue asked, "Do you feel like the art world is finally taking you seriously?"
"The art world right now is taking me more seriously than I ever imagined in my life," he replied. "I'm a under-educated skateboarding mechanic, you know? I can't even wrap my head around it. Maybe Francis could wrap my head around it! But I can't wrap my head around it."
For more info:
- Exhibition: "Francis Hines: Unwrapping the Mystery of New York's Wrapper," at Hollis Taggart Gallery, Southport, Conn. (May 5-June 11)
- Peter Hastings Falk, Chief Curator and Editor, Discoveries in American Art
Story produced by Gabriel Falcon. Editor: Steven Tyler.
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