Searching for hidden treasures among the gently used and sometimes not-so-gently used wares of the Region's thrift stores

chapter 1: The Captain

Browsing through thrift stores can feel like excavating the ruins of a strange and ancient civilization.

The relics of suburban America on the cluttered and haphazardly organized shelves in a thrift store range from the quaint – ceramic owl statues – and ironically fashionable – Members Only jackets – to the sublimely bizarre, such as framed 3-D portraits of poodles.

There’s also a lot of junk: Laurence Welk LPs, tattered VHS exercise videos from 1988, cracked Chicago Bears coffee mugs, sweat-stained “Team Building Exercise ’99”-type T-shirts. It takes patience and an archaeologist’s eye to filter out the rubbish and uncover the true jewels.

It’s important to note the difference between thrift stores and their more respected sibling, the antique store. Antique stores ostensibly are full of jewels and earn an official stamp for their value, while items at a thrift store are just wares their former owners no longer want or need.

Unlike antiques, thrift store goods tend to be pretty cheap, which makes adventures particularly enticing for the cash-strapped. That and the potential thrill of finding something truly unique ramp up the appeal. You never know what you’re going to get, and that’s what keeps you coming back.

Which brings me to this painting.

The sea captain painting. It’s unusual to find something so striking in the “art” section of a local Goodwill store, tucked away among the landscapes, sports team posters and prints of Jesus or kittens.

I suspect most people have seen paintings like this on the wall behind the counter of a greasy spoon diner or in the damp basement studio of a hipster who plays in an avant-garde metal band and likes to read Dostoyevsky on rainy days.

Looking at the painting, I feel inspired to grow a full beard and set sail across the vast waters of Lake Michigan in search of myself.

Not everyone will appreciate it. To paraphrase Owen Wilson’s character Eli Cash in the Wes Anderson film “The Royal Tenenbaums,” the artist – Kim Benson, according to the signature – is painting in an “obsolete vernacular.” It provokes an instant love-it-or-hate-it reaction.

I find its modest majesty to be intriguing, although it’s possible I fall under the “post-ironic hipster” category.
If I were in an avant-garde metal band, this painting certainly would serve as our first album cover.

Interestingly, some Internet research revealed this painting was paired up with a similar painting and sold at an auction in 2006. That begs the question: How in the world did this end up at a Goodwill store in Munster? It likely will remain a mystery.

I’m OK with that. The more important question is: How awesome will this painting look in my house? The answer is hanging on the wall of my basement right now.

Price: $5 – originally $10, but it was 50 percent off day.