May 10, 2012 at 12:09 PM ET
COLUMBUS, Ohio — An unemployed Ohioan was browsing at his local thrift store for items he could restore and resell when he spotted a Picasso poster with the word “Exposition” written across the front, some French words, and the image of a warped round face. He handed over $14.14 for what he saw as a nice commercial print.
Some Internet searches later — and a closer look at markings on the lower right area — and he sold what’s believed to be a signed Picasso print for $7,000 to a private buyer who wants to remain anonymous.
“A pretty darn good return,” said Zachary Bodish of Columbus with a chuckle. “Can’t get that at the bank.”
The 46-year-old Bodish, who was an event and volunteer coordinator at a local museum for six years, originally turned to the Internet and a personal blog to write about his neat find from early March. Bodish had lately been supplementing his income with buying and reselling restored furniture, and he suddenly realized he may have hit jackpot.
“I could tell it was not a modern print,” he said. “So I thought, ‘Well, it’s probably not really a fine Picasso print. What’s the chance of finding that in a thrift store in Columbus, Ohio?”
His online search led him to the print’s history as an exhibition advertisement. And he began to look closely at some very faded red writing on the lower right area, which he originally thought were random pencil marks from the thrift store.
“It wasn’t until I realized where the signature would be, and that those little red marks were right where the signature should be, that I got a stronger magnifying glass out and determined that, ‘Holy cow! It’s really a Picasso.’”
Bodish said he consulted with art experts and met with a representative from Christie’s auction house to authenticate the piece. A Christie’s representative confirmed that Bodish met with a specialist, but the auction house said its policy is not to comment on items that aren’t sold through them. In this case, Bodish decided to sell the print privately in April.
Lisa Florman, an associate history professor at Ohio State University, has written several essays and a book on Picasso. She said the print is a linocut, meaning it’s a design carved out and pressed with ink onto paper. She examined the print only through photos, but she said it’s very unlikely the piece is forged because the piece would sell for so low in the grand scheme of major art fraud. She said she’s examined many forged Picasso signatures in the past, but felt confident about Bodish’s print.
Florman said Picasso designed the print to advertise a 1958 Easter exhibition of his ceramic work in Vallauris, France. She said the artist did these prints for several years, and it’s hard to tell how many are around today. There were 100 prints made for the ceramics exhibition, and Picasso signed them all.
But Florman said Bodish’s print, which is marked as number six, is valuable for being in the artist’s proof range. That means it’s possibly one of only a handful he personally reviewed before they were mass produced.
“Any of the 100 are considered original prints,” she said. “There’s certainly some collectors who really place a premium on a single-digit number because it indicates the artist’s greater involvement with the actual printing, so those particular prints can fetch a higher price.”
Florman said Picasso signed so many prints, it’s very plausible the piece ended up at a thrift store in the Midwest.
“It’s kind of a fun story,” she said. “There’s nothing about it that seems fishy.”
Ed Zettler, a 72-year-old retired English teacher from Columbus, claims the print sat in his basement for years before he decided to donate it to the thrift store where Bodish later found it. Zettler, who said it was a housewarming present given to him by a friend in the 1960s, has no hard feelings about what happened.
“I gave it away. Someone else found it. He fortunately saw more. It’s his,” Zettler said. “That’s the risk you take when you bring something to the thrift store.”
Bodish said he plans to use the money for day-to-day bills, including his mortgage, utilities, food and even more quirky purchases at thrift stores and garage sales.
“It’s just been a rough struggle to make ends meet,” he said. “I may have been fated to find it.”