House flippers in Michigan were surprised last month when they uncovered a large collection of Inuit art after purchasing a house with all of its contents this summer. Approximately 40 prints—all originals, numbered and signed, including Qavavau Manumie’s Ulluliuqtuq (Making a Nest) (2006) and Lucy Qinnuayuak’s Goose Chase (1970) were among the effects left by the previous owner. A number of works by celebrated graphic artist Kenojuak Ashevak, CC, ON, RCA, including Iqalutsiavak (Beautiful Fish) (2005) and Flamboyant Owl (2006) were also found.
Andrey and Tamara Noskov work to update derelict or out-of-date properties and resell them. Although art lovers, the Noskovs were not familiar with Inuit art and Inuit prints. “This has been a very interesting journey for us,” says Tamara Noskov, who has been researching the more than 40 prints left behind by the previous owner for the past month.
The previous owner was a former art teacher who had amassed a large art collection of various types of work–although the Inuit prints discovered by the Noskovs are likely the most valuable. After relocating to a retirement home years ago, the house, with all of the previous owners' collections, remained unoccupied. After he passed away, the house was sold, contents included.
The collection includes 5 special edition serigraphs by Ashevak, commissioned by the Inuit Gallery of Vancouver in 2006—Secluded Owl (2006), Blossoming Owl (2006), Hidden Owls (2006) and Singular Owl (2006) were found in addition to Flamboyant Owl. Sold primarily into private collections, these prints are rarely publicly displayed.
Many of the prints are in pristine condition, still wrapped in their original packaging. However, a few suffered damage due to dampness, and will require restoration. Sadly, one work wasn’t saveable, but the Noskovs hope to have the others professionally conserved.
For Mark London, owner of Galerie Elca London in Montreal, QC, the situation raises uncomfortable questions related to aging collectors and their legacy. “I see it as a cautionary tale,” he says. “While it’s a wonderful story for the people who bought the house, it’s very sad for the collector. The art that they had treasured was just abandoned.” While it may not be necessary to hire art consultants or professional appraisers for your collection, it’s important to make a plan for your artwork. Says London: “discuss it with the kids [or other beneficiaries] so that they know what to do.”
“Learning about Inuit art [has been] amazing,” says Tamara Noskov, adding that, while they plan to sell some of the works through a local gallery, the family will likely keep several pieces that they enjoy. Of those that will be sold, the Noskovs’ priority is to ensure the prints go to someone who will understand their value and enjoy them.