Canvas of the Grand Canyon

Art is a finicky industry, according to Erik Hoyer. As the CEO of the Glendale-based EJ’s Auction & Appraisal, Hoyer feels the auctions can be tough in that regard.

So, when a piece of artwork like an untitled Thomas Moran oil painting of a desert borax mine comes Hoyer’s way and is appraised for $500,000 to $750,000, it’s an estimated guess based on recognition and prior auction records, he explained.

“It could do $300,000 or $200,000, but it could also do $2 million,” he said.

Moran’s recognition includes being known as the “Father of the National Parks,” a nickname given because his Yellowstone sketches played a role in Congress’ declaration of it as the country’s first National Park. And the desert borax mine piece has toured around, having been displayed at the “California Design” exhibition in Pasadena and the Heard Museum in Phoenix.

That painting by the famed landscape artist is just one of many estimated high-value pieces that will be auctioned by EJ’s Auction & Appraisal at noon PT Friday, June 18. It will be the business’ first live, in-person auction since March 2020, though remote buyers can still participate live online as well.

The fine art comes from the collection of the late Edward and Frances Elliott, the latter an influential art collector who played a key role in establishing the Arizona Committee of the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

“It’s really a small portion of what is within the estate itself, and we’re the perfect fit for this type of stuff, because we’re the ones in the Valley that are known for handling these types of collections,” Hoyer said of the pieces slated for the upcoming auction.

Also among those more than 100 works are an untitled Max Ernst oil on board valued from $21,000 to $26,000; an untitled James Swinnerton oil on canvas valued from $20,000 to $25,000; and a Louis Akin oil on canvas of the Grand Canyon valued from $5,000 to $10,000.

The collection — which can be previewed online now or in person from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday, June 17 — encompasses not only a variety of Southwestern paintings and sketches but also sculptures and figurines.

“It’s kind of got something for everybody, although there’s not a lot of — I don’t know if there’s really any, thinking off the top of my head — midcentury modern-type art, really,” he added. 

“They weren’t really into collecting that type of stuff, which is interesting artwise because the home that this was in is a Frank Lloyd Wright home up in Sedona, so midcentury modern was definitely the style of the home and some of the furnishings. But as far as the art goes, it’s more of a Southwest (style), especially Arizona. And some of these artists Fran actually knew.”

Hoyer recalls March 2020 as being a “scary time,” with COVID-19 leading many businesses, including EJ’s Auction & Appraisal, to shut their doors. But he responded fittingly in the best way he could, changing processes to abide by CDC guidelines and bringing staff back while switching to a strictly live online bidding system.

“But in doing so, it actually didn’t hurt us at all,” he said. “In fact, what it really did is it basically pushed those people that were always here on Saturday bidding live, it pushed them into participating online, and what that did was it actually pushed our numbers up.”

“Up,” he estimates, is EJ’s trending 20% above a normal weekly auction.

But while the business survived and even thrived amid a pandemic, Hoyer is hopeful for the future. Aside from the June 18 auction, EJ’s still regularly hosts online-only auctions. Items can be previewed online, with registration at ejsauction.com; auctions are subject to a 20% buyer’s premium.

Hoyer isn’t ready to bring back in-person auctions in full swing, so he’s considering a monthly schedule as opposed to weekly.

“We’re looking forward to seeing all the faces again in June for the live auction, and our facility will accommodate pretty large crowds. It’s an art auction, so our crowd shouldn’t be like a typical Saturday in here where we would have 400 or 500 people on the floor. It won’t be like that; we’re probably looking at maybe 100, 150 bidders.

“But then again, I say that we may have 400 just because everybody knows it’s a live auction. They want to come and experience a live auction again, because it’s definitely an event — it’s a social event. A lot of our bidders coming here have wound up being friends with each other, and there’s the social aspect of the auction that is really hard (to duplicate) when you’re online only. It does add a lot to it.”