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The Mystery of the Goodwill Painting

Posted by Stacy Reece on

By Stacy Reece

I have shopped in antique and thrift stores for about 35 years. I started not long after I was licensed to drive. Some of my favorite things have been found languishing in dusty stores begging me for a good, loving home to go to.

Nothing makes me happier than finding a forgotten jewel that just needs a good bath and a little bit of polishing to really shine. But rarely do my finds come with so much mystery and so many clues. I found a picture at a Goodwill in Atlanta. From a distance, I loved the frame.

When I picked it up, I saw it was an actual painting. The writing on the back told me the name of the little girl and that her grandfather had painted it for her in 1963. His name was Norman Appleton. I was totally captivated by this lovely, little girl and wanted to know more.

Who was she? What was she smiling at? Who painted this picture so lovingly? How did it get here? Who was Norman Appleton? The only artist by the name of Norman Appleton I could find was British, and I didn’t think he was the right person. So my next Nancy Drew step was obvious — the Internet. 

A couple of days later, I got a message from the woman in the picture.

 “Good morning Down South House & Home! 

"This portrait is actually of me and there is another of my sister. My family name is Appleton. I am so thrilled this art has gone to someone who appreciates it. Norman Roy Appleton was my grandfather, who was raised in Philadelphia and moved to Santa Fe along with so many artists during the renaissance there in the early turn of the 20th Century.

"My father's family were railroad men who shaped the west. Norman and his wife, Carolyn Appleton, were landscape and portrait artists there for many years. Carolyn Appleton is known as the author of 'Cocky Cactus' and her beautiful landscapes and Norman for his portraits and photography of the early Navaho tribes there.

"It is my mother's side who hail from the South, and I am indeed in Atlanta, Georgia, now. My only sister has lived her entire life in Texas. These two portraits languished in my attic and I hoped they would find renewed life with someone just like you! Thank you for reaching out and thanks to the internet, you have the story! These were painted approximately 1962, when Norman was near the end of his life.”
So there you have it. Mystery solved. Now where to hang it?
It just so happens that there is a wall in the tiny red barn that is in desperate need of art. So my little girl is the first installation in the Down South House & Home gallery. She is positioned so that I can sit at my desk and look out of my window and at her at the same time.



She makes me smile every time I see her.

I smile because I rescued her, and I smile because I know her secret. Like I leaned over and she whispered it in my ear.




  • I’m amazed to learn the my grandfathers family were railroad men who shaped the west. I believe the information is incorrect in that it was my aunt, by marriage, whose family were the railroad men and not the Appleton’s. Probably a typo.

    Carol Ruth Appleton Ray Zobel on

  • This is WONDERFUL! Thank you for the update!

    Peri Pugh on

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