Mystery of $500K forgotten mural solved

by: Rob Munoz Updated:

This Aug. 8, 2014 photo shows a large mural displayed at the Skagit County Fair in Mount Vernon, Wash. Its origin once a mystery, a Seattle art dealer confirmed on Friday, Aug. 15, 2014 that the canvas is an original 1941 painting by William Cumming. (AP Photo/The Skagit Valley Herald, Scott Terrell)

The mystery of a large mural uncovered in a barn in Skagit County and valued at over a half-million dollars has been solved.
Bret Lunsford, a staff member at the Anacortes Musuem, confirmed through research and with historical articles from the Skagit Valley Herald, that the mural was painted as part of the National Youth Administration (NYA) program for Burlington High School's then-new "farm shop."
It was dedicated in a ceremony at the facility on Oct. 29. 1941.
The large mural collected dust in barns over the decades before being displayed this month at a fair in Washington state.
The work is an original 1941 painting by William Cumming, a member of the Northwest School art movement of the 1930s and '40s, a Seattle art dealer confirmed.
Art gallery owner John Braseth said the signature on the painting was unmistakably Cumming's, the Skagit Valley Herald reported.
"I know his signature better than I know my own," Braseth, who was a close friend of Cumming. The piece is worth at least $100,000, but it is a priceless piece of state history, he told the newspaper.
Cumming was part of the art movement that had roots in northern Washington's Skagit County and produced artists such as Guy Anderson and Mark Tobey.
The mural, painted on canvas measuring 28 feet long and 7 feet tall, ended up with Tony Breckenridge after it was folded into a box and moved among different barns belonging to his family over several decades.
About 10 years ago, Breckenridge brought it out to cover a pile of wood, thinking it was a tarp. When he noticed it was a painting, he assumed it was from a junior livestock show and stored it in his basement for over a decade.
Recently, he called Skagit County Fair organizer Brian Adams to offer it up for display, setting off a search to identify the artist.
"I've authenticated some incredible things. But this is something special," Braseth said.
Adams and Braseth said the mural may have been commissioned by the federal Works Progress Administration, which may affect where the piece is eventually displayed and whether or not it will be restored.
Restoring the painting is estimated to cost $20,000, the Skagit Valley Herald reported.
Braseth hopes they can find out more about the origins of the mural.
"Between me and my brothers, we tried everything in the world to throw it out. Now that we know what it is, I guess it's lucky we didn't," Breckenridge said.

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