The Modini Ranch stories just keep coming. And the Modini gifts just keep on giving.
The 1,700 acres in the mountains of northeastern Sonoma County became a nature preserve earlier this year when the estate of Shirley and Jim Modini, who had lived and loved the ranch for the 60 years of their marriage, was settled. But that wasn't the first story. Nor will it be the last.
The first was the Modinis' decision to sell the development rights on the ranch that had been in Jim's family for 150 years to the Open Space District, keeping the land "forever wild." Then came the childless couple's determination to find the right guardian to inherit the land and everything on it. The gift was given to Audubon Canyon Ranch.
Now we have another story. This one came out of the basement at the ranch house. But it could have come from an episode of "Antiques Roadshow."
A small oil painting of a big-horned sheep standing on a mountain top will be auctioned next week at Bonhams in New York City. It is expected to bring somewhere from $30,000 to $50,000. Maybe more. With the Modini "mojo" at work, who knows where it will end?
The painting is the work of Albert Bierstadt, the Hudson River School artist, whose glorious landscapes captured the beauty of California and the West in the years following the Gold Rush.
Prized by collectors, Bierstadt is best known for his large canvases of Yosemite Valley and the Sierra Nevada. But he also did a few portrait-like paintings of individual animals, including Rocky Mountain sheep, which would describe the ram on the 14" X 20" canvas that stood guard in the Modini basement for who knows how many years.
That's right — the basement! The painting didn't exactly occupy a place of honor in the household. It was down there hanging on the wall behind the freezer — out of sight, out of mind.
Marsha Simmonsia, the Modinis' last caregiver, is the only one who even remembers seeing it. "I'd look at it once in a while," she says, "but it was hard to make out. It was pretty dark down there."
We all know how it is with basements and attics and even garages. Things go into them and never come out, until they overflow with "stuff."
In fact, "Stuff Central" was the name that Modini neighbor and trustee Judy Johnston gave to the empty building in downtown Healdsburg where the contents of the Modinis' home were taken, to be sorted for the giant estate sale last fall.
The Bierstadt ram came dangerously close to being tossed out. Or, at best, being sold at the sale for 20 bucks — just a grimy little painting with a small tear in the canvas.
That's what would have happened, Johnston says, if Tim Gordy from Gold Bloom in Healdsburg had not come to help price the jewelry for the sale, and spotted it. He took a close look, saw the initials "A.B." in the lower left corner and suggested, "Somebody should look at this."
Gordy later said that he certainly did not think of Bierstadt when he saw it, but only that "It caught my eye." Johnston, a successful entrepreneur, willingly admits she knows nothing about art. So she invited her friend Adriane Iann, who sits on the board of San Francisco's Museum of Modern Art, to come to Healdsburg for lunch — and look at the painting.