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Painting bought for 50 cents in Indiana going up for auction

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) – Jesse Ronnebaum isn’t sure what moved him to buy a worn painting of seven men playing pool from a yard sale other than his love of old things. He knew, though, that he didn’t want to pay the asking price – $1. Now the item he got after haggling the cost down to 50 cents may be worth thousands.

Ronnebaum, 28, who makes his living cleaning floors at the Honda plant in Greensburg, is hoping when the painting sells at auction in Chicago in May it will bring in enough to get him out of debt and let him set up savings for his children, ages 2 and 1.

“It would be nice not to have to live check to check,” said Ronnebaum, who lives in Batesville, about 65 miles southeast of Indianapolis.

Ronnebaum was in Oldenburg, a nearby town with German heritage known as the “Village of Spires” because of its old churches, eight years ago when he discovered the painting in a stack of other artwork. He’s not a pool fan, he said, but “I just really fell in love with it.”

Over the past few years Ronnebaum has moved from place to place. The painting survived when he moved from Charlotte, North Carolina, back to Batesville and he burned everything that didn’t fit in a minivan. It also spent time in a storage unit, and was one of the few things thieves didn’t take when they broke into his home a year ago.

Ronnebaum was at home last week when the light hit the painting just right and he saw the words “Palette and Chisel Club 1910” in the corner. He did some research and learned the Palette and Chisel Academy of Fine Arts in Chicago, which still exists, has been associated with some well-known artists. He contacted several art dealers in Indianapolis and by the next day he had offers for the painting ranging from $500 to $1,500.

“That’s when I realized this might be worth something,” he said.

He agreed to work with Indianapolis art dealer Curt Churchman to have the painting restored and sell it at auction.

Churchman said the painting is unusual in that it was done by seven artists. He said the best-known of the group is Victor Higgins, and some of the others are known. Churchman said it’s difficult to say how much the painting will bring.

“I think $10,000 is realistic. I think a good day at auction it could maybe bring $25,000,” he said.

Ronnebaum said he will miss the painting, but will look for a replacement.

“Watch to see if I pass up a yard sale now,” he said.