Five years ago, in September 2017, Connecticut mechanic Jared Whipple found hundreds of artworks in a dumpster at an abandoned farmhouse. He took them home, thinking he might use them as Halloween decorations for his indoor skatepark.
As it turns out, the art was anything but trash. Per Adriana Morga of CT Insiderthe collection constitutes the life work of Abstract Expressionist artist Francis Hines—and it could be worth millions.
Whipple heard about the art from a friend, George Martin, who had been readying a Watertown, Connecticut, barn for sale. When Whipple arrived, he found a dumpster stuffed with hundreds of pieces of art, some dirty, others covered in plastic paintings.
“[W] e were not able to wrap our heads around what we saw,” he writes on a website dedicated to the find. “It was gut-wrenching and very upsetting for us to get to see what looked like a lifetime of somebody’s artwork being thrown into dumpsters and heading for the landfill.”
Within moments, Whipple adds, “we decided that part of the collection should live on.”
According to the site, the mechanic noticed a familiar motif in some of the paintings: “I was able to pick out many hidden car parts and noticed a bio-mechanical theme going on with some of the artwork.”
Intrigued by the find, Whipple took the art home with him. Most of the paintings were simply signed “F. Hines,” but he eventually discovered a 1961 canvas that bore the full name “Francis Mattson Hines.”
After conducting extensive research on the artist’s life, Whipple eventually contacted Hines’ family. They gave Whipple permission to keep the work, and Hines’ former art dealer introduced him to others in the art world, including art historian Peter Hastings Falk.
“I’d never seen work like this, with physical wrappings on the canvases themselves, over imagery that was quite professionally done,” says Hollis Taggart, who will exhibit some of the paintings at his Southport, Connecticut, gallery next month, to Artnet‘s Taylor Dafoe.
Those “wrappings” were a classic element of Hines’ work, which used a tactic first popularized by Christo and Jeanne-Claude. Like the artist couple, Hines wrapped landmarks in the United States, including the Washington Square Arch in New York in 1980.
Hines retired to Connecticut and died in 2016 at age 96, leaving his life’s work behind in his barn. Since then, his work has largely been forgotten.
Whipple hopes to change that. Between May 5 and June 11, the Hollis Taggart exhibition will showcase and offer for sale roughly 35 to 40 pieces of the discovered art. According to a statement, the display—co-curated by Hastings Falk and Hollis Taggart’s Paul Efstathiou—will be accompanied by a “focused presentation” at the gallery’s Chelsea location.
Dumps, trash cans and recycling bins often yield artistic treasures—and stranger-than-fiction art stories. In 2007, for example, a woman spotted a colorful painting between two Manhattan trash cans. As the New York Times reported, it turned out to be a stolen, $1 million painting that yielded its finder a $15,000 reward. In 2020, a valuable Surrealist painting by Yves Tanguy turned up in an airport trash can. Plenty of modern artists have had their contemporary pieces mistaken for junk and thrown out by clueless cleaners and bungling storage companies.
For Whipple, the artwork once consigned to the trash is a real treasure—one that put his life on a new path. He tells CT Insider that his “purpose is to get Hines into the history books”; in an Instagram video, he describes how getting the cold shoulder from museums and galleries that didn’t take him seriously as he approached them with the Hines cache motivated him to “build [his] own art world” at his Connecticut facility, which now features local artists and bands.
It’s unclear exactly how many artworks Whipple saved, but he says there are a few works he won’t sell. At the show next month, according to Artnet, the paintings will be on offer for between $12,500 and $20,000 each. All told, the entire collection could be worth millions.
“As a gallerist, I am particularly interested in presenting the work of artists who have been left out of mainstream art history, whether it be by active omission or by chance,” says Taggart in the statement. “It is extremely rare to come across so many works by a largely forgotten artist. We’re excited … to consider how [Hines’] work might fit into the history of American art movements like Abstract Expressionism and alongside artists exploring similar techniques or themes like Christo or John Chamberlain.”
“Francis Hines: Unwrapping the Mystery of New York’s Wrapper” will be on view at Hollis Taggart in Southport, Connecticut, from May 5 through June 11.