Finding Pastel Treasure in the Garage

Because I never want to run out of some art supply that I really use, I tend to buy a lot of a material I really like and hoard it. I tell my students that when I die there’s going to be one heck of a garage sale. But the pastels stashed away in Jeannine Humphrey’s garage in Florida for 30 years bring a whole new meaning to garage sale finds!

Purely by happenstance, Jeannine stopped by a pastel society art show opening where there was a pastel demo going on by artist Kathy Detrano. Jeannine mentioned that she’d found a box of pastels while cleaning out her garage and wondered if someone might know what they were (see photos below). Given other commitments, it took Kathy weeks before finding time to investigate. When she did, she discovered that the wooden box and padding that Jeannine had was indeed old, but to her amazement it contained hundreds of clearly marked Sennelier pastels that looked almost brand new. They had been the property of Jeannine’s father-in-law, Francis Stetson Humphrey and had been in her garage for 30+ years and in various attics before that. Through a notation in Francis’s small sketchbook, the pastels are believed to have been used by him when he first tried pastels around the turn of the last century. “My first pastel,, dated 1903, was the title on one of the pages.

101314-mckinley pastel-pointers-2


These pastels, which had been hiding in a garage all these years, numbered around 400, were in three different shapes, and were three trays deep. Most of them had the ‘baton’ stick shape we recognize today and were marked Sennelier pastel tendres surfin (soft pastel superfine). There was also an assortment of intriguing, slightly harder pastels, thinner and tapered, labeled Sennelier 1/2 durs surfins (1/2 hard superfine). Interestingly, the label was on the bottom half of those sticks, perhaps suggesting where they should be held. Finally, there were a couple of rows of wrapped but unlabeled conical-shaped pastels, clearly of the same families of tints, shades, and hues. Kathy stated that the colors were glorious! There were vivid blues, reds, magentas, and yellows. There were soft neutrals with hints of violet, blue, and green. Today we buy softer pastels in one set and harder pastels in another. But 100 years ago you apparently bought them all together, as this heirloom set, marked “410 pastels” suggests.



Now, Kathy and Jeannine had to decide what to do with them. How valuable were they? Did they contain hazardous chemicals? Some were unusually heavy giving one pause about the mineral content being the “real thing” such as cadmium. A few strokes from a couple of sticks confirmed that they could actually be used for artwork, but was that the right thing to do? Responses from a PSA Facebook post with photos of the pastels brought enthusiasm and awe. And it was suggested that Jeannine might consider donating them to PSA as an archive treasure for future pastelists to enjoy. PSA president, Jimmy Wright, was quick to respond that the PSA office in NYC was not the best place for the heirloom set and recommended the Butler Institute of American Art or the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  But alas, the Butler did not believe that they had the best place to store the material and instead recommended the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Again, by happenstance, PSA President Jimmy Wright mentioned the pastel set to Dr. Marjorie Shelley, Sherman Fairchild Conservator in Charge for Works on Paper and Photograph Conservation at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, who was visiting PSA to judge the Annual Exhibition.  Her response was immediate and enthusiastic, saying that they would add great strength to the Museum’s collection.

And so the story closes with the donation of the turn-of-the-century pastels to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  To quote Jeannine Humphrey, “I inherited the pastels. For these many years they were kept either in attics or garages in all kinds of temperatures and yet they survived.  Now they deserve a very special place to spend the next hundred years.”

You never know what you can find in a garage sale.






Enjoy a FREE Trial Weekend at! Learn from the world’s best artists in the comfort of your home!

  • Starting October 16th, take advantage of our FREE TRIAL Weekend at!
    You can view any and all of the video workshops for a full 4 days. With nearly 400 videos to choose from, including several videos with Richard McKinley, we know you’ll find something you’ll enjoy!
  • Simply click on the link below to sign up for a monthly renewing  subscription to,
    use your free trial code ATV4FREE, and you’ll receive a 4 DAY FREE TRIAL! Your credit card will not be charged until the end of your free trial period. So, if you cancel during your free trial, you won’t pay a thing.
  • If you want to continue viewing all of the great art video workshops at
    after your free trial period is over, you don’t need to do anything. You will automatically be renewed for the monthly full access subscription at $19.99/month. Your membership will continue to be renewed until you cancel. To cancel, just sign in to your My Account page and select to stop your renewal. FREE Trial Weekend–Starts October 16th!
    Click Here to Start Your FREE Trial Weekend Now!


You may also like these articles: