The End Matters: Estate Planning for Visual Artists and Collectors

I was approached by several artists recently with questions around their bequest planning and whether SNAG would be able to help and receive some of the artwork and money the artists wished to bestow. (Short answer: Yes, SNAG can help with this, please be in touch either with me privately or our Executive Director, Gwynne Rukenbrod Smith ( at any time.)

Talking about our own mortality isn't exactly what we enjoy doing, but it's an important topic nevertheless. I came across an article in the OREGON the other day (I believe it was first posted on Critical Craft Forum on fb) which is linked below. Everybody always thinks they have a ton of time and estate planning is pushed aside, the result of which is that relatives and friends are left to decide as they see fit - with varying outcomes.

Looking forward to hearing your views on this. Has anyone had experience with this, good or bad? Any advice?

B. Martin

Crafthaus Founder & Editor

SNAG, President-elect

crafthauseditor at live dot com


The 66-year-old man was enjoying himself dancing at John Henry's tavern in Eugene, so his friend went to have a beer at the bar. Suddenly, the man, clutching a sketchbook, was on the ground, dead of a heart attack.

The man curled up in front of a speaker in September 2000 was folk artist Raymond Komer. 

Komer was an orphan who grew up in Boys Town, a man who had some formal art schooling but who lived as a wanderer and earned just enough in disability checks to hold on. He stole art supplies to keep his art going, his friends said, and he lived in attics or basements, anywhere he could put together a studio and store his art. 

More about Ray Komer
Eugene Contemporary Art recently published "The Ecstasy of Discovering Raymond Raymond."

He left behind a massive archive – prints, acrylic paintings on Masonite, found-art collages, sculptures, and piles of his omnipresent charcoal sketchbooks. Sixteen years later, his friends and accidental collectors are wondering what they should do with the pieces they inherited. 

That's a question for any artist or collector who ends up with a trove of work but no plan. 

"A lot of it is going to have to depend on the passion of the people who have the work," said Charles Froelick, who owns the Froelick Gallery in Portland. "Just because there's art doesn't mean somebody wants to buy it."

Continue reading this article HERE.

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Comment by Brigitte Martin on May 29, 2016 at 3:24pm
Thank you very much for your post, 2Roses! I agree with you, clear-sighted planning of the inevitable will actually go a long way in easing our minds. Fretting about the unknown will do nobody any good. Thanks!
Comment by 2Roses on May 29, 2016 at 12:24pm

We have organized and attended more artist estate sales over the last 40 years than I can remember. Our experience is chiefly with jewelers, lapidaries, and metalsmiths. There seems to be a very distinct and repetitive pattern to these events. 

1. Organizing the estate sale is overwhelming, often near impossible for the family. Most often they simply don't know anything about the artist's work, its value, how to organize a sale, and who to contact as potential buyers. Family members who are knowledgeable and actively involved in the artist's career are the exception, not the rule. 

2. There will often be a feeding frenzy of sales among the artist's peers for the tools. These items will sell fast, usually for a maximum of .50 cents on the dollar if lucky. The artwork will be much more difficult to sell

3. The sale of the remaining supplies will be sketchy. So many of us accumulate all sorts of odd materials based on our personal aesthetic and working style or project in the back of our minds. Putting a value on the supplies is also a difficult and very time-consuming task. Estates often resort to "lot pricing" just to get through it all. This strategy is also related to creating lots with both desirable and undesirable material, with the idea of, buy the stuff you like, but part of the "price" is you take the trash out. Supplies and materials do sell, but often for pennies on the dollar. You can expect to end up with as much as 50% of the supplies and materials that you literally cannot give away.

For lapidaries, it is even worse. Dad, or Grandpa often has 2 to 3 tons of rough rock piled up in the backyard. The surviving family almost always just wants it gone (read hauled away).

The remaining artwork will be much more difficult to sell. If the artist is well known, the best select pieces will find a home, often through auction. Usually for pennies on the dollar for what they sold for during the artist's lifetime. A few more remaining pieces will be given out as mementos to friends and family. The rest will end up in a box or at worst thrown away, simply because the surviving family has no recourse or means of storing a lifetime's volume of artwork

Lastly, because we are known for assisting with such things in our local area, we are contacted regularly by artists who do try to plan for this eventuality. Here emerges another familiar pattern. "Surely, my collection of X (fill in the blank) would be valued by XX (fill in the name of an institution)", says the artist. Can you arrange for its donation?"  Most likely not. 

Most likely not. 

For our part, we as artists are facing this very same eventuality. We don't find it depressing. It simply is. If we are so concerned about such things, then dealing with it ourselves is the best solution. If we didn't care enough about all this to take care of it while we're alive, how much time in eternity are we going to spend worrying about it after we are gone?

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