Piece could sell for up to $5,000 if in perfect condition.
Dear Helaine and Joe: I inherited an oil painting on canvas that measures 22 by 28 inches and is signed by Ross Stefan. I wonder about its monetary worth and where I might market it. — N.G., Pembroke, Mass.
Dear N.G.: This oil on canvas presents a wonderfully warm domestic scene with a Native American mother (probably Apache) holding her smiling infant safe and snug in a cradleboard.
Ross Stefan was born in Milwaukee in 1934 and had his first one-man art show at the tender age of 13. Stefan met Western artist Daniel Cody Muller (1888-1977) and was greatly influenced by his work.
Muller’s father was part Blackfoot and he scouted for the U.S. Cavalry with Buffalo Bill Cody. The younger Muller became a member of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Shows and for 18 years periodically toured North America and Europe with the company.
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After leaving show business, Muller became one of genre’s most accomplished artists. His work customarily depicts images of cowboys on horseback, sometimes playing sports such as “cowboy polo.” He also does portraits of Native Americans.
Stefan moved to Arizona in 1953 and studied art at the University of Arizona. In his spare time, he worked as an illustrator for the Tucson Daily Citizen. But in 1955, Stefan quit school to paint full time.
He began traveling the desert, visiting the native pueblos and painting and drawing the American West’s people and landscapes. His work is often described as “southwestern impressionism” because of his broad brush strokes and heightened color palette, but this does not take into account the proportional accuracy and spatial realism of his landscapes, figures and architecture.
Ross Stefan’s scenes of pueblo life and the southern Arizona landscape are still prime examples of this genre, and his legacy is secure as a leading Arizona artist of the 20th century.
But what about the marketplace?
Prices for Stefan’s work have increased dramatically over the last 10 years as interest in western art has expanded. In 2007, his painting “Finally Caught” sold for $16,800 at auction. Many other Stefan paintings have sold privately at similar prices. But prices paid for his landscapes far exceed those paid for his portraits and scenes of Native American people. The work in today’s question is a decent size. If it was in perfect condition, it likely would sell at auction for $3,000 to $5,000.
It definitely would be better to sell this painting in the Southwest with Scottsdale, Ariz., and Santa Fe, N.M., both being leading candidates. We try to stay out of commercial transactions or personal recommendations, but exploring auction houses in these areas may be fruitful for N.G.
Auction companies in Altadena, Cali., and Reno, Nev., have also done well, and Stefan’s work has sold successfully at one of the major international auction housed in New York City as well.
(Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson are the authors of “Price It Yourself” (HarperResource, $19.95). Contact them at Treasures in Your Attic, P.O. Box 18350, Knoxville, Tenn. 37928. Email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.)