The Oak Park Art League (OPAL) is a place to create and learn. It is also a place for artists to come together and show artwork, and for art lovers to view new creations.
Over its 99-year existence, OPAL has amassed a collection of 40 to 50 artworks in a permanent collection. In the fall of 2019, the board of directors and Jill Kramer Goldstein, executive director, began talking about what to do with these works. While a few selected pieces hang and rotate on the back wall of the first floor of OPAL’s home in the Carriage House Gallery, 720 Chicago Ave., most were occupying a small office space.
Not only is there inadequate storage space, the environment in the 100-year-old building is “just not the best way to store anything with archival intentions,” Kramer Goldstein said.
“It’s not part of our mission to preserve the work; we’re not a museum,” she said.
Selling the work, however, would enable OPAL to pursue their mission.
“We’re more about offering opportunities for artists — professionals and students — to learn and grow in the arts.”
Once the decision was made to sell the art, Toomey & Co, an Oak Park auction house, was contacted. Erin Marcell and Aron Packer, senior specialists of Fine Art, came into the Carriage House Gallery, OPAL’s home since 1937, in December to view the collection. They chose 17 works, mostly paintings, for their Interiors Auction, which will take place on Wednesday, May 6, at 10 a.m.
“The 17 that they chose were the pieces they thought would be most recognizable by the artists names, were probably in the best shape physically.” Kramer Goldstein said. “Ultimately they made the decision on what they thought they could take and sell with the highest return. … They want to obviously help us out.”
The works were acquired as gifts from artists or their families throughout OPAL’s history. Two oil paintings being auctioned, “Throughout the Woods” and “Landscape,” are by OPAL founder Carl Krafft and each carry an auction estimate of $1,000 to $2,000. “Sunset” by the Carriage House prairie school architect E.E. Roberts is also in the auction; its estimate is $300 to $500.
While the Carriage House was designed by E.E. Roberts, Kramer Goldstein said the art league did not feel compelled to hold onto the artwork created by the architect.
“There are plenty of people in Oak Park that live in an E.E. Roberts home and might love to have a pastel drawing of his that was done in 1920,” she said.
On letting go of the only works OPAL owns by its founder, Carl Krafft, Kramer Goldstein said it came down to “not being able to serve the pieces and, in the long term, take care of them and offer them the stewardship that they deserve.”
There are still “treasures left” from the collection. Kramer Goldstein, who is also an artist, said a couple of her favorites are there, including one that she imagines was done in the 1970s or 1980s, a post-modern, stark depiction of people on an el train. It is unsigned.
“It’s lovely,” Kramer Goldstein said. “And, I’m really kind of happy it wasn’t chosen.”
This is not the first time Toomey is holding an auction closed to the public, but it is the first time there is no in-person preview.
There has been interest in the OPAL works. Some potential buyers requested preview appointments and one window preview was set up, a new safe way to view an item during the COVID-19 pandemic at the showroom at Toomey & Co., 818 North Blvd. Lucy Toomey, CEO, said they are offering virtual previews too.
Kramer Goldstein said the money made from the auction will go “into expanding programming as well as some of the building maintenance.” Programing goals include open drawing sessions for artists, scholarships for underserved students for summer classes and community partnerships with other nonprofits. Building project goals include a new roof and an ADA accessible 1st floor bathroom.
The 17 OPAL artworks in the Toomey & Co auction can be viewed at toomeyco.com. Bidding can be done by absentee bid or online through LiveAuctioneers or Invaluable.