CARY — Tony D'Amico went to the Cary Goodwill store looking for a picture frame and maybe a pair of shorts or two. He went home with a $6.99 painting that could be worth $1,600.
After searching through the clothes bin at the Kilmayne Drive store, he browsed the artwork and a particular piece caught his eye - a seascape oil painting of waves crashing against rocks while a solitary seagull flies overhead.
The handmade frame, the signature "Uwe" and the Masonite board it was painted on led D'Amico to think the thrift-store find might be an original painting.
"You don't see any reproductions on Masonite; it's usually on paper," said D'Amico, 47, who paints in his spare time. "That clued me in right away."
A Google search on a fellow shopper's Blackberry led him to the website of California artist Uwe Werner, 68, who has achieved worldwide fame for his seascapes.
"The guy standing there said, 'Well maybe one day if you get tired of it, you can put it on eBay and sell it for 80, 90 or 100 dollars,' " D'Amico said.
In fact, the painting that D'Amico bought for $6.99 could be worth $1,600, Werner said.
When D'Amico called Werner and described the painting to him, Werner was sure it was one of his originals. The frame, the seagull theme and the number 6 written on the back were all reminiscent of his past work.
"There was no question that it was mine," Werner said. "It's one of my very early pieces."
Werner started numbering his works in the early 1970s, hence the 6 on D'Amico's find, which is titled "Lone Gull." The artist painted an entire series of seascapes featuring seagulls while he was living in Coronado Beach, Calif.
"The lone gull, it's just so serene," Werner said. "It's a free spirit that I think many people envy, that a bird can glide and fly free, which a human could never experience short of hang gliding."
Werner says he's not sure whom he originally sold the painting to or how it made its way to North Carolina, but he has customers from all over the globe. Steve Snyderman, a spokesman for Goodwill Industries of Eastern North Carolina, said Goodwill stores don't track the donations they receive.
"All these things are generally one-of-a-kind items, so we don't keep a running inventory," he said.
D'Amico said he's fascinated by water. He grew up in Maryland near the Chesapeake Bay, and he said he connected with the painting as soon as he saw it.
"I've never seen a surf look quite so detailed," he said. "It just inspired me to want to paint again."
D'Amico works full-time as an assistant park manager in Wake County, but he's loved painting since he was 12. He took art classes in technical college and is working on several paintings.
D'Amico says he's not going to sell "Lone Gull." It holds a greater value to him as an inspiration for his own artwork.
"I like his technique," he said. "I'm just going to try to learn from that and learn some seascape style, (and) develop my own style from that."
The painting's color scheme happens to be a perfect match for D'Amico's sea green kitchen walls, where the work now hangs. He says the fact that this valuable painting ended up in the hands of another artist was a great coincidence.
"It's almost like it was fate," he said.
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