New St. Louis Park event delves into old heirlooms

The lead appraiser for the St. Louis Park Historical Society’s inaugural antiques event is herself a part of the city’s history.

Park’s Antique Parade will feature appraisals by St. Louis Park resident Bonnie Lindberg, whose efforts for more than two decades to recover Norman Rockwell paintings stolen from her mother’s art gallery along Excelsior Boulevard became the subject of a true crime book.

She and James Marrinan, both of Appraisal Specialists Midwest, will provide appraisals and insight into antiques presented to them during Park’s Antique Parade. The event is 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, May 16, at the St. Louis Park High School cafeteria, 6425 W. 33rd St. Check-in of items begins at 9:30 a.m.

A tax-deductible fee of $10 per item for the appraisal will benefit the St. Louis Historical Society. Each person may submit up to three items.

Appraisal Specialists Midwest has provided services for similar events for the Edina Historical Society and Golden Valley Historical Society, but this will be the first such antiques evaluation activity in St. Louis Park.

Sue Ainsworth, a trustee with the St. Louis Park Historical Society, said they decided to accept Lindberg’s suggestion of an antiques parade since the St. Louis Park Historical Society is seeking to acquire a building for a museum.

“We have a lot of members and nonmembers who are interested in knowing more about their home,” Ainsworth said. “If we have a place to share that information, that would be a really valuable tool for the community.”

Additionally, many of the historical items the society has collected cannot be stored in optimal conditions currently, Ainsworth said.

“Some things are fragile, and even with paper it would be better to have it stored under ideal conditions,” she explained.

A benefit that focuses on items of personal interest to participants appealed to the historical society’s leaders.

“People are interested in their antiques and discovering if grandma’s painting in the attic is worth anything,” Ainsworth said. “Several other historical societies have done this and some have done it more than once, and they always get a lot of interest in the community.”

People often gather around to learn about the history of other items, Lindberg said.

“Early on when we started doing this, people would form a line and come up,” Lindberg said. “All of a sudden, we noticed people were standing around because they weren’t just interested in their own item but interested in other items that people were bringing.”

She, her husband and Marrinan have a range of expertise about a variety of items. Lindberg recalled a powder horn from 1776, very old toys and paintings that turned out to be by well-known artists as memorable items discovered at past events.

“It’s not always about the money,” Lindberg said. “It’s about the history of an item. When was it made? Where did it come from? We’ll have somebody bring up an item and say my great-grandfather brought it over from Sweden, and it turns out it was English. Of course, people were trading a long time ago from different countries. It’s really identifying things for people.”

Some people say that younger generations are not interested in history, but Lindberg said she has seen firsthand that is not true. Young people who learn the history of a dish, for example, have a better interest in the item and history in general.

“It preserves the family history and keeps people interested in their ancestors,” Lindberg said.

Lindberg gained an interest in appraisal from her mother, who operated Elayne Galleries in St. Louis Park. The intricately planned theft of Norman Rockwell paintings at the gallery has been called the biggest theft in Minnesota history. The events prompted former City Pages investigative reporter Bruce Rubenstein in “The Rockwell Heist” to detail Lindberg’s quest to recover the paintings, including an exploration of information involving connections in Portugal, Argentina and Las Vegas and finally the recovery of paintings in Brazil.

Lindberg recalled that she felt indignant upon learning that Rockwell’s quintessential American scenes had left the continent.

“Norman Rockwell in South America is just wrong – his works belong back in North America, back in the United States,” she said. “That made me even more angry.”

Even after the paintings had been recovered and returned to their rightful owners, Lindberg said a mystery hung about regarding the heist itself.

“I felt that Bruce represented it well,” she said. “He was really able to delve into who did it and why. We really never had any confirmation on why in the world did this happened and who did it. So he was really able to do that. For me, it gave me some closure on it.”

Rubenstein has a more modest view of his accomplishments.

“I would say the case never was solved,” he told the Sun Sailor in 2013. “I found out who the perpetrators were, and I found out the FBI knew who the perpetrators were, but they came to the conclusion they would never have enough evidence to charge them. The case was never prosecuted, but the paintings were recovered 22 years later in Brazil.”

Lindberg and her husband still live in a house behind the former gallery where the theft took place. The site is now home to Morning Star Birth Center.

Lindberg’s mother had specialized in handwriting analysis, personality analysis and forgery work for police and department stores but also worked as an appraiser. In 1977 – the year before the heist – Lindberg joined her mother at Elayne Galleries. While working there, she learned about the art business and appraisals.

Elayne Galleries was not the only former business in the area with a colorful history, Lindberg noted.

“Excelsior Boulevard was a pretty interesting street, especially during Prohibition,” Lindberg said. “There were a lot of speakeasies, and it’s where people ‘came into the country.’ Excelsior Boulevard alone has it’s own great history.”

Laughing, she added, “It was wonderful to be a part of the continuing notoriety of Excelsior Boulevard.”

The St. Louis Park Historical Society has been instrumental in documenting the city’s past, Lindberg said.

“We really believe in the local historical societies,” she said. “The Minnesota Historical Society is wonderful, and they have so much and for certain things it’s really appropriate to think of them. But we want people to think even more local about where they either were born or grew up or live today.”

To register for Park’s Antique Parade, visit slphistory.org or mail your name, address, phone, number, email address, a brief description of items and a check made out to the St. Louis Park Historical Society to 3700 Monterey Drive, St. Louis Park, MN 55416.

Participants do not need to live in St. Louis Park. The society advises them to bring their most unusual items but to avoid bringing dolls, wrist watches, jewelry, weapons or sports memorabilia. Items should be small enough to be carried safety into the high school cafeteria, the society notes.

More information about the theft at Elayne Galleries is available at slphistory.org/elaynegalleries. More information about Rubenstein’s book is available at www.mhspress.org.

Contact Seth Rowe at [email protected]