Dead Artist Hoarded Socks, Warhols

Photo: EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images/2007 AFP

More often than not, Hoarders is the anti–Antiques Roadshow; as any even semi-loyal viewer of can tell you, hoarders frequently insist that their hoard contains (or is made up entirely of) great treasures, and they will keep insisting that, even in the face of experts who tell them their gold is actually plastic — or dead cats. That’s why it’s so surprising that, according to today’s New York Times, a clean-up specialist actually did find treasures in a hoard — albeit one amassed by reclusive artist Harry Shunk, whose body was found in his West Village apartment ten days after he died under an avalanche of his own junk. Shunk had no will or relatives, so investigators came in, removed whatever looked valuable, and sold it at auction for $2 million dollars.

After that, Darryl Kelly’s clean-up crew was brought in to clear out the non-valuables (including Shunk’s “boxes of meticulously rolled tube socks”), which they almost left in a Dumpster before impulsively grabbing “about 2,000” items and taking them home. Since Kelly and his brother-in-law, Gregory Marsh, had no idea if their findings were worth anything, they ended up being hoarded again — this time in Mr. Kelly’s house — until his wife put her foot down and made them move the haul to a storage locker.

Two years later, after discovering Antiques Roadshow and noticing that people seemed to be willing to pay a lot of money for what looked like “ordinary stuff,” Kelly finally decided to take Shunk’s material possessions to an appraiser, who discovered Warhol lithographs and Christo sketches overlooked by investigators. They’re auctioning off the collection in the fall. “What’s fascinating is that it all could have been lost, but for this accidental collector,” said art adviser Jane Borthwick. “He was basically the caretaker of this collection for years.” So, basically, the only thing separating a hoarder from a collector (or caretaker) is a little bit of very valuable fine art.