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Worth the wait for the sake of art Penney's private collection attracts a long line of grateful admirers and prospective buyers

Art aficionados had to play a waiting game Sunday at the Buffalo Niagara Marriott in Amherst, where the queue for the exhibition and sale of Charles Rand Penney's collection stretched from the ballroom farthest from the hotel lobby almost all the way to the front desk.

"I figured the line would be out the door, so I'm not disappointed. This is a very exciting day," art dealer Dean Brownrout said as the first group of prospective buyers milled about in the brightly lit room just after the 1 p.m. start.

They came to size up 250 works from Penney's private collection of works by mostly Western New York artists. And from the looks of it, the shoppers were mainly local residents, including a number of artists, cultural leaders, museum members and designers.

"It's like old home week," remarked Reine Hauser, executive director of Graycliff, the Frank Lloyd Wright complex being restored in Derby.

That's exactly the sort of turnout the 86-year-old Penney, who sat in a wheelchair at the back of the room cheerfully hobnobbing with visitors, had been hoping for.

Most of the pieces on display had been amassed over the nearly two decades since the Lockport philanthropist began donating more than 1,300 objects, including 184 Charles Burchfield paintings, to the Buffalo museum that bears his and Burchfield's names.

Now he wanted to see them end up in "good local homes" to help pre serve the region's great artistic wealth.

"They're my children," Penney said as well-wishers streamed by to say hello. "I keep files on all of them, and I'm always interested in knowing where they go."

Karl Kolbe, of Alden, bent over to shake Penney's hand and thank him "for what you've done for Western New York."

Naturally, the object of his gratitude wanted to know what Kolbe had chosen for his home. The buyer acknowledged that his purchases were closer to the low end of the price range -- $50 -- than the most expensive piece, which carried a $10,000 tag.

"I picked up a couple of paintings a retired teacher can afford," joked Kolbe, who has collected art for 40 years but said he and his wife, Kathryn, are running out of space for it.

Hauser and others were impressed by the diversity of the works on display, which represented but a tiny segment of the trove Penney has gathered over his lifetime.

There were oils, watercolors, acrylics and sketches, posters, fabrics, chairs, art glass windows and vases, and much more.

The event was said to be the largest of its kind since the late Buffalo artist Tony Sisti's collection was auctioned in the 1980s and the former Goldome Bank's art was sold in the following decade.

Art never seems to lose its appeal, even in hard times, Brownrout noted. Investing in paintings, sculptures and other objects, he said, "is generally considered a great hedge against inflation."

The long line of people waiting patiently outside the door seemed to agree.


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