High School Art Project Accidentally Appraised at $50k

Imagine creating a piece of art in a high school art class. You put a lot of effort into it, and you are proud of the final result, but it’s just a grade. This is the kind of art that doesn’t follow you when you move out, staying behind in your parents’ house or going in the dumpster without a second thought. You forget the piece completely and move on with your life.

Young Betsy Soule with art she created in high school Credit: PBS

Now, imagine receiving a phone call over forty years later from an old high school friend, who tells you to go online and look up a new appraisal from Antiques Roadshow. You do, and you find that the piece of art you made was featured on the popular and long-standing show, appraised at $30,000-$50,000.

As you can imagine, Oregon horse trainer Betsy Soule was pretty surprised when she was in this very situation, which was almost as bizarre as the jug she made in the 1970’s. “The whole thing was shocking,” Soule told The Huffington Post in an interview. “I’ve laughed about it for weeks.”

According to a recent article from The Washington Post, the strange piece of pottery, dubbed “grotesque face jug,” was brought on the show by Alvin Barr, an antiques broker living in Oregon. He found the piece of pottery in a barn at an estate sale and was impressed by its uniqueness. On a whim, he paid $300 for it and took it home.

Barr was shocked when appraiser Stephen Fletcher told him that the piece could be worth up to $50,000. Fletcher said that the jug’s value lied in the “impressive array of techniques” used to make the faces of varying textures and shapes, as well as the age of the piece. He estimated that it was made in the late 1800’s or early 1900’s. He had “never seen anything quite like it.”

Credit: PBS

Unfortunately, while he was correct about the artistry that went into its creation, Fletcher was mistaken about the age of the “weird pot,” which he found out when the artist’s friend contacted Antiques Roadshow.

The appraisal has been corrected, with the retail value estimate now listed as $3,000-$5,000. “Still not bad for a high schooler in Oregon,” Fletcher says in a note about the correction. He praises the virtuosity that went into the jug and sheepishly admits his mistake, saying, “The techniques of making pottery, in many ways, haven’t changed for centuries. Obviously, I was mistaken as to its age by 60 to 80 years.”

Tell your story

Have you ever experienced major mix ups in the art world? What’s the funniest thing that has happened to you in your art career?

About the Author: Mara Blackwood

Mara Blackwood is the executive editor of RedDotBlog


  1. The funniest thing….I was at an art show where I had a piece on display. At the time, I happened to be looking at a piece that was next to where mine was hanging. There was a woman, older than me, looking at a drawing of mine that was included in the show. While looking, she leaned to see the informational plaque then stood up, making a gesture. I asked her if she was interested in the piece which already had been sold. She said yes, and that the artist who made the piece had been one of her kindergarten students, and that she had kept one of this student’s drawing until very recently because she had to downsize. Since I was that student, around 35 at the time, I introduced myself. We had a great laugh and reminisced. It was amazing that after all of those years, we remembered the importance of our early experience together. I thank her and all of my teachers who let me be alone at the easel at every chance I could get.

  2. Years ago I had a one woman show in a county events center. About thirty of my oil paintings were exhibited. Opening night at the reception, I was puzzled that the show’s organizers made no attempt to introduce me as their featured artist. No one attending was familiar to me, so my husband and I wandered around, looking at how nicely my paintings were exhibited. I noticed a small crowd gathered in front of one piece. A gentleman was holding forth with great authority on the artist’s (my) motivation, inspiration, technique, and background influences. I was fascinated, drew near, and joined the rapt group of listeners. I’ve always wanted to be that fly on the wall where no one knows who you are. I got the chance that night to hear what people really thought of my work. The gentleman stranger spoke with such conviction telling all so much about me and my art. It was a twilight zone moment and, actually, fun.

  3. What a great story. Hilarious, and encouraging. Keep on keeping on! Shows you never really know how good you are… but someone else is sure they can tell you.

  4. I did a Series of paintings for my Grandparents, Edith and Richard Hecht, who died of starvation and Typhus in the German Concentration Camp, Bergen-Belsen, the same camp Anne Frank died in.
    “Black Forest VII” has had an interesting history. It was in my second Studio fire (I’ve had three set by neighbors) but survived when I pulled it out from the burning building against firemen’s warnings not to go in.
    It was moved to my “temporary” studio across the street, an old thrift shop. After my “Black Forest” show at Lonny Gans gallery in Los Angeles, it was sold to Union Bank of Switzerland in downtown L. A. where it proudly had a full-time job greeting clients.
    It is seven-foot and filled a whole wall.
    Then I had a show of new oils. The owner of the painting decided to trade the “Black Forest” painting for a large oil. “Black Forest VII” lost it’s job and came back to the thrift store studio unemployed.
    An Architect friend wanted to borrow the painting for a dinner party. I put the painting face forward near the flimsy red front doors so I could easily load it into my truck the next day. But when I went back to my studio, the doors were unlocked and the painting had vanished!
    I called the police. A special Art Detective came out from La Cienega branch. He told me the thief was probably within a ten-mile radius.
    I put a sign on my doors: Reward: $200. for return of “Black Forest VII” no questions asked.
    I had a dream that a Mexican guy would run into my studio telling me had the painting.
    Two weeks later, a Mexican guy ran into my studio. I said, “Don’t tell me. You have my painting. Just bring it back!”
    He said, “My friend took it.”
    I gave him $50. and told him he would get the rest when he returned the painting.
    He brought it back in an old truck.
    That’s not the end of the story. I could tell you more, but I’ll end it here with the happy ending. “Black Forest VII” ended up in a Museum.

  5. Wow! What a facinating life your painting has, Susan! Please, do tell the rest!
    I do have a funny story as well. At one of the shows lady stopped by my paintings and after a short glimpse she exclaimed that last week she was looking for a house to rent and owners had several of my pieces in their house. She recognized them even without looking at my name. We started talking and turned out it was the house of my one of the first collectors. It was fun to see that somebody recognized my work on the spot and fun to learn that their house is like a showcase for my work.

  6. I had a woman declare loudly that my photographs were grossly overpriced. I could have corrected her that they were original pastel paintings but the fact she was so sure they were photos was rather nice!

  7. I used to work for the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, TX and one of the docs convinced me to enter the Southwest Biological Photographers Show which showed paintings in addition to photographs. I entered a photo-realistically painted baby sea turtle hatching out of his egg. Not only did I win my category, Natural Science Illustration and Best of Show for painting, but I also got 10 votes for best photograph, which was more rewarding than winning the awards.

  8. …. and a new art career is born. 🙂 I saw that episode when it aired and thought, “No.” Why any licensed appraiser would give that much value to an anonymous piece is puzzling. The “art experts” are often suspect. The links below illustrate that beautifully and every time these things happen I have to laugh.

    My only (recurring) chagrin is when a 5 x 7 quick oil study is applauded with a BEST IN SHOW!!! while my full sized studio piece isn’t even juried in. I quit losing sleep over that long ago.
    Takaways …. your opinion and your work is as valid as anyone’s. Don’t create art for critics; do it for yourself.

  9. Valuing art is a mystery to me. If you have a dealer that says something is worth X dollars and you have a collector willing to pay it, then its value is established by the sale. Everything else in the world is based on time and material. Art gets adjusted for by supply and demand. This latter item is what drives estimated values up.

    Based on this, who is to say that this item is not worth $50K?

  10. This isn’t personal, but a few years back a man was walking through SOHO in New York and while looking at a modern art gallery’s exhibit had the usual thought: My kid could do that!

    So, he tested his thesis. He got his kid to do a series of large abstract paintings. He arranged to display these paintings in a one day show in SOHO. They did advertising and put out invitations and gave the whole thing a gallery look.

    The evening was well attended with very serious looking people attending and discussing the work. They sold many of the pieces. Critics came and gave the show positive press. Mostly the praise was for the direct approach of the work and its deceptively simple technique that belied its sophisticated intent.

    So, there you go. Have your kid do the work and you can just manage the money.

  11. About 10 years ago I entered a regional competition with a piece of art suited to the call for entries. It was my first attempt at a sculpture made of found art. I cut up strips of fabric and created a large portrait of a woman with a wobbegon face. I titled “Bad Hair Day.” There was nothing purist in my techniques. I used started with a wire frame armature and glued the strips into place, layer upon layer. The hardest part, and the reason that I’ve never made another one is that my hands hurt from the repeated motion of the glue gun. To my utter and complete amazement, I won one of 3 merit awards for the sculpture. The purse was $1500. Since that time I’ve tried on different occasions to find a place to show it but haven’t succeeded at even that. Sadly, it sits once again in storage.

  12. In high school I donated one of my oil paintings to an auction for a worthy cause. I went to the auction excited to see how much it would sell for. It sold for peanuts… the buyer bought it to paint over. Deb

  13. That really is hysterical, but I think it just goes to show that impressions and our stories are almost as important as the quality of the work. The piece was truly unusual. If it survives another fifty years maybe it will reach the first valuation, especially if the story survives.

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