N.S. artist's stolen painting of grandfather found in thrift store 24 years later

A Nova Scotia artist will soon be reunited with a stolen painting she made of her grandfather that was taken from her more than two decades ago.

Former classmate found '90s painting in a Calgary thrift shop

Nova Scotia artist Charmaine Wheatley shows a photo of the painting on her laptop. The painting was found 24 years after it was stolen. (Elizabeth Chiu/CBC)

A Nova Scotia artist will soon be reunited with a stolen painting of her grandfather that was taken from her more than two decades ago.

Charmaine Wheatley, artist-in-residence at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York, painted a portrait of her grandfather, Thomas Wheatley Sr., while studying at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in the mid-'90s because he looked so much like her father, Thomas Wheatley Jr. 

"It was very economical or efficient," said Wheatley, whose works today can be found at museums including New York's Museum of Modern Art and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. "Do a painting of my granddad and it's like a painting of my dad at the same time."

Wheatley lent the painting and six or seven others to a filmmaker 24 years ago.

'I was just completely floored'

"This charismatic, handsome, totally trustworthy filmmaker guy said he wanted to borrow these paintings for a movie he was making, a film.… And I just thought, 'Yeah, of course.' In Nova Scotia, nobody does this sort of highfalutin stealing. Anyway, he borrowed the paintings and he just disappeared and he never returned them."

Jump to 2018 and her friend and former classmate Jana Pruden, now a feature writer at The Globe and Mail, found the painting at a thrift store in Calgary. She sent Wheatley a message over Facebook that she had bought it.

"I was just completely floored," Wheatley told CBC News during an interview in Cole Harbour, N.S., where she is back home for the week. "What are the odds that a painting that I do in Nova Scotia when I'm at arts school 24 years later ends up in Calgary [and] my friend Jana is the one that finds it and then gets it."

Paintings have habit 'of hanging around'

Wheatley said she always thought the painting would resurface.

"Because you throw out TV sets, but paintings, they have a habit of hanging around," she said. "And it's a pretty good painting except for the ears."

She has two tasks now. First, to give Pruden a different work of art to replace the returned portrait.

Second, to fix the ears.

"I'm not saying that my granddad and my dad's ears are not huge," she said. "They are. They have big ears. But I think can do it with a little more painterly finesse."

With files from CBC's Elizabeth Chiu