For the sake of art and politics

Two friends, lawmakers of opposite parties, purchase rare Pollock piece

Staff photo by CHRIS GAROFOLO Nashua Democrat Ken Gidge, left, and Franklin Republican Harold French, two lawmakers with opposing political viewpoints brought together over their love of art, study a printout of Jackson Pollock's No. 26 A. The two lawmakers, Gidge in the New Hampshire House and French in the Senate, purchased the silkscreen of the work last year and have it available for viewing or sale here in Nashua.

NASHUA – It sounds like the start of a bad political joke: A Democrat and a Republican walk into an auction and purchase a million-dollar piece of art.

But in New Hampshire, two friends on opposite ends of the political spectrum have turned this wisecrack into reality.

State Rep. Ken Gidge, a Nashua Democrat, and Sen. Harold French, R-Franklin, purchased a silkscreen canvas of Pollock’s No. 26 A, a black and white work completed in 1948 that includes a rare example of his

signature in the bottom lefthand corner. Pollock, who died in 1956, was known for his drip painting, placing his canvas on the floor and moving around it holding a brush or other item and pouring or trickling the paint.

The original painting hangs in the Pompidou Centre museum in Paris. Very few silkscreens from Pollock have survived to this day.

“It’s a rarity to find one of these,” Gidge said. “They usually destroy these.”

The two lawmakers served together in the House Commerce and Consumer Affairs Committee. Despite having very polarizing views on nearly every hot-button issue, the men bonded over their love of art.

Gidge is a visual artist who designs original 3-D paintings. They are described on his website as abstract 3-D holographic neon artwork.

French works as a folk art sculptor and previously ran a gallery. He also serves on the New Hampshire Art Association board and moved on from the New Hampshire House to the state’s 24-member Senate.

“Once we got to talking, we found out we have a great deal in common,” French said. “I have one of Ken’s painting hanging in my office in the Statehouse.”

At several points during their discussion about the silkscreen, they veered off into a playful ribbing of the Republican health care plan or the decriminalization of marijuana, where they actually found some common ground. And yet it always comes back to art for them.

“I started the House art caucus. (French) said, ‘I want to get involved in this,’ so now it’s the House-Senate art caucus,” Gidge said. “But knowing him, it will have to be the Senate-House caucus.”

French and several other individuals purchased the piece at an auction in Connecticut last year for an undisclosed price. Gidge, who quickly became a minority owner of the artwork, assisted in researching Pollock’s life and the previous owner.

Gidge found the canvas came from the collection of Ford Beckman, a longtime artist and former fashion designer who died in 2014 at the age of 62 in his Tulsa, Okla., home.

“When I acquired this with some other guys, I was telling Ken about it. He is the foremost enthusiastic person on Pollock, and he looked at it and got involved as a partner on it,” French said.

For now, the canvas resides in the ArtHub Gallery, home to the Nashua Area Artists’

Association.

It is carefully nestled between old portraits of Pollock in a storage room. Blinds over the large glass window hide the masterpiece inside, a handful of black and white photographs of Pollock face outward at a wall that holds a collection of watercolors and acrylic works by local artists.

While the value of the canvas is subjective, both Gidge and French agree it should bring in at least seven figures.

“I see this, it would be like having Van Gogh’s brushes for me,” French said. “It’s not a Van Gogh painting, it’s not a Pollock painting, but it’s the tool he used to produce it.”

It is about finding the right buyer, Gidge said.

“We know it’s worth $1 million to the right person,” he said. “We do know it’s worth $2 million, but you got to find the right person. Anyone who loves Jackson Pollock, you can’t do better than this.”

There are no plans to use the silkscreen to reproduce the painting here in Nashua. Gidge is setting up potential buyers, but is also allowing interested members of the art community to sneak a peek.

Upon the final sale, they hope to give a percentage to the Beckman family.

As many as 40 crates of Beckman’s art collection was seized by the IRS after he fell into financial difficulty prior to this death. The Pollock silkscreen was held for a decade before going up at Weston’s Auction Gallery in Coventry, Conn., where a Granite State Republican called upon his Democratic colleague to invest in a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity revolving around one of the country’s most controversial and well-known 20th century artists.

“It is a unique piece, I think we’re going to find it’s one-of-a-kind,” French said.

“What’s really neat about it is that it shows the process of the work,” he continued. “A lot of places have the finished product, but to have this next to the finished product would be really neat because you’d be able to see how it’s done.”

Chris Garofolo can be reached at 594-1247 or at cgarofolo@nashuatelegraph.com.