Restaurateurs Trade Sandwiches for a Painting That Ends up Being Worth Over $250K

Maud Lewis Painting

Maud Lewis, “Black Truck,” 1967 (Photo via Miller & Miller Auctions)

What would you trade for your favorite meal? Back in the 1970s, a family-owned restaurant in Ontario, Canada, used their homecooked cuisine to make trades with other makers in their community—and unknowingly collected a valuable work of art in the process. In exchange for warm grilled cheese sandwiches, Irene and Tony Demas received a rare painting by Canadian folk artist Maud Lewis. Today, that painting is worth over $250k.

The Demases collected this item through an English painter named John Kinnear, who was staying in London, Ontario, with his wife, Audrey. Kinnear had a penchant for grilled cheese sandwiches; particularly for the artisan versions that the Demases produced, which featured five-year-old cheddar and freshly baked bread. Instead of paying for his usual dish in cash, the Demases accepted works of art. On one of these occasions, Kinnear arrived with an unusual collection of paintings.

“I just sat there in silence for quite a while. I’d never ever seen any art like that before. At first, I thought they might be playing some sort of trick on me. Did a kid do some of these?” Irene said, referring to the art's distinctly childlike style. Instead, Kinnear explained that the paintings were made by a poor Nova Scotia named Maud Lewis who, in absence of proper painting supplies, created works of art with whatever she could find. This often meant resorting to found pieces of wood and leftover paint that fishermen used on their boats.

In spite of her humble background and meager materials, Lewis created vibrant depictions of life in Nova Scotia, celebrating the natural beauty of the area. When presented with an array of Lewis's artwork, Irene Demas gravitated towards the work entitled Black Truck, which portrayed a black vehicle driving down a road bordering trees and flowers. Since she was pregnant at the time of the purchase, Irene used the painting to decorate the room of her son. There, it remained for years, until the couple decided to put it for sale in 2022.

“My husband’s 90 and I don’t think I have another 50 years to hang on to it,” Irene explains. “The kids are saying, use the money and travel and just enjoy life.” The painting was sold in May 2022 through Miller & Miller Auctions for $350,000 CA (or $273,432 US).

Canadian restaurateurs Irene and Tony Demas acquired a rare painting made by Canadian folk artist Maud Lewis.

Maud Lewis Painting

Maud Lewis, “Black Truck,” 1967 (Photo via Miller & Miller Auctions)

It was traded to them by art collector John Kinnear, in exchange for grilled cheese sandwiches.

Maud Lewis Paintings

Photograph of Maud Lewis, taken before 1970 (Photo: Ron Cogswell via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 2.0)

The Demas family kept the painting for decades and finally auctioned it off this year for $350,000 CA (or $273,432 U.S.).

Maud Lewis House

Photo of the interior of Maud Lewis's house.


h/t: [The Guardian]

All images via Miller & Miller Auctions.

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Margherita Cole

Margherita Cole is a Contributing Writer at My Modern Met and illustrator based in Southern California. She holds a BA in Art History with a minor in Studio Art from Wofford College, and an MA in Illustration: Authorial Practice from Falmouth University in the UK. She wrote and illustrated an instructional art book about how to draw cartoons titled 'Cartooning Made Easy: Circle, Triangle, Square' that was published by Walter Foster in 2022.
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