The managing editor of TownSquareDelaware.com, Christy Fleming also supports a variety of non-profit initiatives in Delaware. Her background includes positions in public relations, advertising and journalism.
Denis Chandler vividly remembers the day his parents purchased a painting from the legendary artist Frank Schoonover that sixty years later would put him on national television.
It was June of 1960, and Chandler accompanied his parents and three brothers to the Brandywine School illustrator’s Wilmington studios, where his family paid $300 dollars for an original work that had appeared in a 1923 book about a boy and his adventures at sea during the American Revolution. Chandler remembers the “dark wooden floors, paint everywhere … big windows at one end, and old, discarded canvas.”
But as Chandler emotionally recounted on the season premiere of PBS’ Antiques Roadshow, while his parents loved and collected art, they were by no means major collectors. In fact, his mother had secretly put five dollars a month aside over several years in order to present her husband with a surprise gift – the opportunity to purchase an original Schoonover.
“My mother wanted to give my father a gift he would really love, and he loved reading to his children, books that had illustrations,” said Chandler. “And this is one of the illustrations.”
From that point on, the Schoonover painting was fixture in the family’s Wilmington home. When his father passed away fifteen years ago, Denis – who had long admired the artwork – was left the painting. It hung in his mother’s house for another five years before he brought it into his home.
Initially, Chandler was reluctant to get further attention following his appearance on the hit TV show. But he soon realized that anonymity would be difficult after being seen by millions of loyal Antiques Roadshow viewers, particularly in a small town like Wilmington, where he spent his entire life.
Now retired, for many years Chandler owned and managed the Bloomsberry flower shop at the corner of Delaware Avenue and Scott Street. The Brandywine High School graduate said when he learned Antiques Roadshow would be coming to Delaware last summer, he knew he wanted to see it in action at Winterthur.
In order to gain access to the show, however, he was required to apply online and “tell us a story we can’t resist about something you own.” Incredibly, Chandler says the Schoonover didn’t immediately come to mind.
“I’ve watched, been a fan of it for a long time,” said Chandler. “That’s always been one of my questions at a dinner party – if you had to take one thing from your household [to the show], what would you take? You get some pretty interesting answers.”
“So I told them my parent’s love story, and they sent back an email saying, ‘Congratulations, you’ve got two tickets to Antiques Roadshow, and you can bring four objects.’”
Chandler knew the painting was valuable, having had it appraised years before at $25,000. But he was overwhelmed with emotion when New York City-based appraiser Debra Force told him the painting could fetch well over one hundred thousand dollars at auction, saying “there’s been a big surge in interest in illustration” in the market.
“I know you’re kidding me,” said Chandler as he stepped away from the painting choking back tears. “My father would be so thrilled to know people would be turned on to illustrations – and my mother would be really thrilled at what you just said,” Chandler exclaimed on camera.
In their conversation, Force told Chandler that Schoonover was very popular in the earlier part of the twentieth century in part because he illustrated such classic books as RobinsonCrusoe and Swiss Family Robinson.
Chandler watched the episode featuring the Schoonover appraisal with two of his brothers, and immediately began hearing from high school, college and family friends from across the country, saying the feedback has been heartwarming.
“So many people said, ‘I could tell how much you loved your parents.’”
Realizing the potential for leveraging his wonderful family story further, Chandler approached the Delaware Art Museum with the offer to loan his painting for display.
“Within twenty-four hours they said ‘bring it in,’” he said.
“I thought It was a win-win situation – Frank Schoonover was one of the founding members of this museum – or what turned out to be this museum – and his studio isn’t far from here. It just made a lot of sense.”
“If this could bring new visitors or bring some old visitors back – maybe they will have coffee or buy a book in the bookstore and a lot of people would be able to see it,” said Chandler.
“He kindly offered to lend the painting in hopes that it would entice visitors to visit the museum during these cold winter months,” said Heather Coyle, chief curator at the museum. “It came together really fast—the painting was hanging less than a week after he reached out—because we wanted to have the painting on view while the episode was still fresh in everyone’s mind,” she said.
The Schoonover painting is in excellent condition – Chandler recalls his mother dusted it every week until she died – and he says the professional lighting it now enjoys has opened his eyes to an investment he needs to make in his own home to better showcase the masterpiece.