FARGO — Imagine your family home along the Red River is about to be torn down after a flood buyout. You then realize what might be a centuries-old piece of art that has been mounted on the ceiling for decades needs to be saved.
The family of former Fargo City Attorney Garylle Stewart is trying to sell his eclectic collection of antiques and hard-to-find items, and they'd like to sell one particularly interesting item before their home is removed or demolished this summer.
Stewart, who was a fixture at Fargo City Commission meetings for four decades, died in 2016 and left behind the impressive collection, which includes classic cars, high-end train sets and a painting of currently unknown origin found decades ago in a film star's aging Hollywood mansion.
"It is hard enough actually moving out of the house, but knowing it will be torn down — it has been bittersweet for us," said Audrey Farol, whose father was known for his love of horse racing, collecting unique items and his sharp eye for anything uncommon.
Stewart's collection features eight classic cars, including three rare 1950 Ford Crestliners, which were only produced for two years.
But the story behind a painting that depicts a group of cherubs in the clouds stands out.
Stewart and Farol's uncle found it in a mansion in Hollywood Hills that was about to be torn down, the home of Golden Age Hollywood film star Douglas Fairbanks Jr.
The mansion and the piece of art were in disrepair. "It was filthy. You would not recognize it," Farol said.
Still, Stewart bought it and had it shipped to Fargo.
"It was pure black when he got it," Farol said, explaining that a Minnesota State University Moorhead art professor had to go through a painstaking process to restore it, cleaning just one inch a day.
It took months, but finally, the pastel colors and cherubs were revealed, with the artist's signature still visible. The piece is believed to be from the late 18th century.
Years ago, it was nearly forgotten and lost in Hollywood. Today, as the Red River floods, it again needs a new home so the story of mystery can continue.
"It's beautiful; we want to try and find a home for it. Another ballroom. It is so interesting to think who danced beneath this, at the home of a Hollywood star," Farol said of the painting, which she still hopes to learn more about.
Stewart was also a builder and collector of high-end train sets which were set up and working in three separate rooms in his basement. Those sets are also part of the sale, which will be handled through VanDerBrink Auctions. An exact date for the auction has not yet been set.