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November 11, 2006

What Teri Horton can teach us about life — if we listen very carefully


Who is Teri Horton (above) and why should we care?

Long story short: She's a 74-year-old retired truck driver who, in the early 1990s, paid $5 for a curiosity (below)


in a San Bernardino, California thrift shop.

Turns out that it may very well be a Jackson Pollock original.

She's already turned down $9 million for it because she is determined to sell it for the going rate for one of Pollock's great drip paintings — at least $50 million.

But what she can teach us is far more important than how to sniff out a masterwork in unlikely surroundings, or connoisseurship.

No, the lesson here is one of understanding what it is that makes life worth living.

Because, let's face it, for a woman like Ms. Horton, who lives in a mobile home in Costa Mesa, California and depends on her Social Security checks to support herself, $9 million and $50 million are the same number: whether she receives one sum rather than the other won't make an iota of difference in terms of her actual life after cashing the check.

But cashing the check — ah, that's another story entirely.

Because once the painting departs from her life, she might as well be dead: possessing it and forcing the "experts" to acknowledge it as an original is what she does and who she is.

People conflate value and money.

We are reminded of Oscar Wilde's remark, to wit: "A cynic is a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing."

Ms. Horton, though she may well have no idea who Oscar Wilde is, understands him far better than those who disdain her in their condescension.

Randy Kennedy explored the long, strange trip of Ms. Horton and her painting in a story that appeared on the front page of the November 9, 2006 New York Times Arts section; it follows.

    Could Be a Pollock; Must Be a Yarn

    After retiring from truck driving in 1987, Teri Horton devoted much of her time to bargain hunting around the Los Angeles area. Sometimes the bargains were discovered on Salvation Army shelves and sometimes, she willingly admits, at the bottom of Dumpsters.

    Even the most stubborn deal scrounger probably would have been satisfied with the rate of return recently offered to her for a curiosity she snagged for $5 in a San Bernardino thrift shop in the early 1990s. A buyer, said to be from Saudi Arabia, was willing to pay $9 million for it, just under an 180 million percent increase on her original investment. Ms. Horton, a sandpaper-voiced woman with a hard-shell perm who lives in a mobile home in Costa Mesa and depends on her Social Security checks, turned him down without a second thought.

    Ms. Horton’s find is not exactly the kind that gets pulled from a steamer trunk on the “Antiques Roadshow.” It is a dinner-table-size painting, crosshatched in the unmistakable drippy, streaky, swirly style that made Jackson Pollock one of the most famous artists of the last century. Ms. Horton had never heard of Pollock before buying the painting, but when an art teacher saw it and told her that it might be his work (and that it could fetch untold millions if it were), she launched herself on a single-minded post-retirement career — enlisting, along the way, a forensic expert and a once-powerful art dealer — to have her painting acknowledged as authentic by scholars and the art market.

    She is still waiting, defiantly, for that recognition and the payoff it could bring. But as a kind of fringe benefit, her tenacity has made her into a minor celebrity, a pantsuited David flinging stones at the art world’s increasingly wealthy Goliaths. Now it has also landed her the starring role in a documentary scheduled to open next week in New York and later around the country, called “Who the #$&% Is Jackson Pollock?” (When Ms. Horton asked this of her art teacher friend, the original question included a word that cannot be printed in this newspaper nor, apparently, blown up on movie marquees.)

    The movie, directed by Harry Moses, a veteran television documentarian, was produced by him; Don Hewitt, the creator and former executive producer of “60 Minutes”; and his son, Steven Hewitt, a former top executive at Showtime. Mr. Moses said he first became aware of Ms. Horton’s quest when he was approached by Tod Volpe, a high-flying art dealer who fell to earth, and landed himself in prison, in the late 1990s for defrauding several of his celebrity clients, including Jack Nicholson and Barbra Streisand.

    Mr. Volpe, who has harbored dreams of breaking into movies, proposed collaborating with Mr. Moses on a 10-hour documentary mini-series about corruption in the art world, a subject he said he knew well.

    Mr. Moses said he thought the idea was too outlandish and that it would never sell in the American television market. But he was struck by Mr. Volpe’s account of Ms. Horton, especially after learning that she, with the help of a Canadian art restorer named Peter Paul Biro, had found a fingerprint, in paint, on the back of her canvas and that Mr. Biro said he had matched the print to one he found later on a paint can in Pollock’s Long Island studio, now maintained as a museum.

    Mr. Moses approached Don and Steven Hewitt with the idea of a theatrical movie about Ms. Horton, something Mr. Moses had never tried. Both were interested, but the elder Mr. Hewitt said that the project hinged on whether Ms. Horton could, in essence, sell it.

    “You can only make these things work,” Mr. Hewitt said in an interview in the corner office he still maintains at CBS, “if you find people who are better at being themselves than an actor or actress would be at playing them. And I took one look at Teri and I said, ‘My God, she’s Elaine Stritch.’ And she is. You couldn’t do better than this lady.”

    Mr. Hewitt, who at 83 is still busily casting about for projects to forestall his retirement, then called Michael Lynne, the co-chairman of New Line Cinema, which was in the process of forming Picturehouse, a new division for art and independent-type movies. A deal was struck, and Ms. Horton became the unlikely leading lady for the division’s first documentary.

    The filmmakers were initially fascinated by the science-versus-art angle of Ms. Horton’s story, about how forensics may be starting to nudge the entrenched tradition of connoisseurship from its perch in the world of art authentication. But as they spent more time with her, they began to see the movie as being about something more important than whether the painting was a real Pollock, a question left very much for the viewer to decide.

    “It became, really, a story about class in America,” Mr. Moses said. “It’s a story of the art world looking down its collective nose at this woman with an eighth-grade education.”

    In the movie, which has the earnest feel of an extended “60 Minutes” segment, the filmmakers seek to place Ms. Horton, 74, fully within the grand tradition of stubborn, we-know-better folk heroes, somewhere between Will Rogers and Wrong Way Corrigan. She is arrayed against a formidable team of establishment skeptics, including Ben Heller, an early Pollock collector, and Thomas Hoving, the former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, who examines the painting in somewhat dramatic fashion, tilting his head and almost touching his nose to the canvas before pronouncing it “dead on arrival.”

    Later in the movie Mr. Hoving says that Ms. Horton has no right to be bitter about her treatment by the art world and adds sternly, when told that she would vehemently disagree: “She knows nothing. I’m an expert. She’s not.”

    In Ms. Horton’s campaign to publicize her battle, there are few places she has not tried. In 2004 she shared the bill on an “incredible but true” edition of “The Montel Williams Show” with a guest who had survived having a knife plunged into his skull and a boy who was once trapped inside an arcade game at a Piggy Wiggly store. She appeared on “The Tonight Show” with Jay Leno. This week, to promote the movie, she took a red-eye flight to New York to appear on David Letterman’s “Late Show” alongside her painting, which will be accompanied at all times, she noted, by herself and two armed guards.

    Interviewed over drinks in the back booth of a bar near her hotel on Tuesday, Ms. Horton was clearly having fun in her now-enlarged role as self-appointed scourge of high-dollar high culture, which she calls “the art-world conglomerate conspiracy.” She said, though, that she remained completely confident that she would see herself vindicated, and that she would sell her painting at her price — no less than $50 million — within her lifetime.

    And if that does not happen?

    She clicked a long, lacquered fingernail on the tabletop.

    “Before I let them take advantage of me,” she said, smiling broadly, “I’ll burn that son of a bitch.”


Tell you what: I can't hardly wait to see "Who the #$&% Is Jackson Pollock?"

November 11, 2006 at 10:01 AM | Permalink


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Teri Horton, if you check this can you please email me at tsaligi247@aol.com. My father in law could use your help and opinions regarding a similar situation that you've been going through. Thank you!

Posted by: Amy | Feb 9, 2009 10:00:17 PM

Yes, how can we Email her? I'm an artist and I believe I can help her prove that it's a Pollock and probably cut from a larger Pollock which would explain why his friend couldn't completely say it WAS a Pollack. Artist's strokes ( albeit poured) are their signature...can't be duplicated...Artist's Pallets are very individual and specific...there was acrylic HOUSE PAINT in the 50's which is what he used...never could use oil based paint to get that look...would never have dried in time...he did these in one or a few sittings...probably in a long, long day!! and the finger print...DUH. I think they are trying to wait until she's dead and then steal it from her heirs. IF the forensic was actually the comparison of her painting and one of Pollocks...no contest. Please pass this on to her. She's quite a Broad!!! and if nothing else, she finished the job that Pollock left unfinished...pulling the mask off the effete snobs who think because they know a thing or two about art they are better...art is such a gift...they should be thanking their lucky stars they've been fortunate enough to be surrounded by it ...art belongs to GOD...junk doesn't. BB

Posted by: babiBeemer | Jun 10, 2007 1:01:00 AM

Good for Teri Horton!!!!!! I would love to email her. Does anyone know a way to get in touch with her?
If so, please email me: blueblackhorn@mac.com

Posted by: gigigabrielle | Jun 9, 2007 12:19:36 PM

The proof if this is a real Jacson pollock is right under your nose. I can prove without question if this painting was done in his main studio.

Posted by: Matt McClure | May 6, 2007 8:33:15 PM

Why I rejected the $9
million offer, it had nothing to do with the subject of "greed". If I said the $$$$$ were not
an important factor,.....my opening lines in the
film "Who the @#$% is Jackson Pollock" are self explanatory..........

"We all know a fairy tale starts out..Once upon a time.....a truck drivers tale starts out....You
an't gonna..... believe this shit".

What the art power, the elite collector, and many readers, fail to see.... the real reason for my 15 years in this Pollock saga.

"PRINCIPLE, is a passion for truth and right."
Teri Horton

Posted by: Teri Horton | Nov 16, 2006 8:55:36 AM

You can't help but root for this lady. I hope with all my heart the painting is authenticated and she gets what she's due. Here's to her for holding out for it.

Posted by: LisaJay | Nov 12, 2006 12:50:56 PM

I love this story! I can't wait to see the movie either! What a great person.

Posted by: Mattp9 | Nov 11, 2006 10:46:24 PM

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