Student Art Project Gets Mighty High Appraisal Antique dealer Alvin Barr was surprised when a piece of pottery he owned was appraised at as much as $50,000 on Antiques Roadshow. So too was the pot's creator, Betsy Soule.

Student Art Project Gets Mighty High Appraisal

Student Art Project Gets Mighty High Appraisal

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Antique dealer Alvin Barr was surprised when a piece of pottery he owned was appraised at as much as $50,000 on Antiques Roadshow. So too was the pot's creator, Betsy Soule.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now we go from frocks to antiques. Have you ever watched the PBS program "Antiques Roadshow"? If so you know that the best part is that moment when guests learn just how much that old painting or family heirloom from the attic is really worth. It turns out that appraising antiques is a tricky thing. Oregon antiques dealer Alvin Barr brought to the show a very unique piece of pottery he'd found in an estate sale.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ANTIQUES ROADSHOW")

ALVIN BARR: It was up in a barn. It was covered with dirt and straw, looked like some chicken droppings were on. It was very dirty.

MARTIN: But when he uncovered the jug and saw it decorated by six gargoyle faces all different protruding from each side, Barr says he had to have it, and then he heard the appraisal.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ANTIQUES ROADSHOW")

STEPHEN FLETCHER: Somebody might well ask in the area between 30 and $50,000 for this.

BARR: What?

FLETCHER: It's just an amazing thing.

BARR: No.

FLETCHER: Well, that's my opinion.

(LAUGHTER)

BARR: I thought I overpaid. I paid $300 for it.

FLETCHER: It would appear in our opinion that you didn't overpay.

MARTIN: Sadly that estimation did not last long.

BETSY SOULE: An old friend called me up and told me that I had to get on the web and watch the "Antiques Roadshow" 'cause my pot was on it.

MARTIN: That's Betsy Soule, a horse trainer from Eugene, Ore., who was something of a precocious potter with a penchant for Pablo Picasso and medieval artwork in her high school days.

SOULE: I don't know where those gargoyles all came from. I just liked weird faces.

MARTIN: She instantly recognized the mystery jug.

SOULE: It was my favorite pot, and I had lost track of it so many years ago. I just never thought it would resurface anywhere.

MARTIN: So there was a bit of a markdown, but the joy of rediscovering your long lost high school artwork on national television, priceless.

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'70s High School Art Project Mistakenly Valued At $50K On 'Antiques Roadshow'

"The potter has used an impressive array of techniques to come up with this extraordinary texture," an Antiques Roadshow appraiser said of this piece — which turned out to be a high school art project. Courtesy of Antiques Roadshow/PBS hide caption

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Courtesy of Antiques Roadshow/PBS

"The potter has used an impressive array of techniques to come up with this extraordinary texture," an Antiques Roadshow appraiser said of this piece — which turned out to be a high school art project.

Courtesy of Antiques Roadshow/PBS

It was the Antiques Roadshow dream: You show up with your weird-looking jug and explain that you paid $300 for it at an estate sale in Oregon. Then the expert announces ...

"It's bizarre and wonderful. You even see a little bit of, like, Pablo Picasso going on here. It's a little difficult to identify precisely when this was made, but I think it's probably late 19th or early 20th century. ...

"Probably its origin — it's coast of the United States, maybe Middle Atlantic states headed southward. Estimating its value is a little difficult. I think in a retail setting, somebody might well ask in the area of between $30,000 and $50,000 for this."

The owner, astonished, said, "What!?"

And also, "No!"

Which, as it turns out, was the right reaction. The "Grotesque Face Jug" wasn't a 100-year-old artifact, but the work of a creative high school student circa 1973.

The Antiques Roadshow episode aired in January, and PBS released a correction note in February. (The story comes to our attention now thanks to The Washington Post and the CBC.)

A viewer recognized the jug as the work of one of her friends — Betsy Soule. Soule verified that, indeed, it was her student handiwork.

The new information led appraiser Stephen Fletcher to "reconsider" his evaluation of the jug, PBS notes. Fletcher maintained the jug "was modeled or sculpted with considerable imagination, virtuosity and technical competence."

"This mysterious piece was reportedly found at an estate sale, covered with dust, straw, and chicken droppings, and purchased for $300," Fletcher said. "As far as its age is concerned, I was fooled, as were some of my colleagues.

"The techniques of making pottery, in many ways, haven't changed for centuries," he added. "Obviously, I was mistaken as to its age by 60 to 80 years. I feel the value at auction, based on its quality and artistic merit, is in the $3,000-$5,000 range. Still not bad for a high-schooler in Oregon."

For his part, the owner of the jug, Alvin Barr, says he is glad to hear the item isn't quite so valuable. He told The Bend Bulletin that he packed it away for safekeeping when he thought it was worth $50,000.

"Now, it's on my table, and I love it," he says.

As for Soule, a horse trainer who doesn't do much sculpting these days? She thinks even $300 was too much to pay for the piece. And if it had been in her hands --

"If I'd known he was that fond of it I probably would've just given it to him," she told the CBC's "As It Happens."