Years ago, Wayne Kielsmeier got a call from a local attorney to do a handful of art appraisals at someone’s home.
“The house was so huge,” Kielsmeier says. “You walk into this living room and it’s like a museum. It’s huge.”
After looking at all the artwork in the home — from paintings to sculptures — Kielsmeier valued the art at $15 million. In his almost 30 years of appraising art, that’s the highest value he’s ever determined.
What originally started as a hobby has since turned into a full-blown business. Kielsmeier, who previously worked in the medical field, owns Covington Gallery on Tucson’s east side, where he sells and helps broker or appraise fine art. He’s a member of the Appraisers National Association and American Association of Independent Appraisers.
“I collected art for a while and I thought, ‘I’ll try this,’” Kielsmeier says.
Covington Gallery specializes in mostly American and European paintings, prints, watercolors, drawings and sculptures from the 19th and 20th centuries.
“I try and cut off at 1950 and back,” Kielsmeier says, adding that a lot of other businesses in the area started offering Southwestern artworks, so he wanted to “offer something different.”
“It’s just the fascinating history of American art and these people — how they got established and exhibited,” he says. “It just took me over. It’s fun to tell people about how this guy was so-and-so, spent time in London, did this series, did a desert set.”
Despite Kielsmeier’s sharp eye for good art, he isn’t an artist himself.
“I cannot draw or paint or anything. I do good stick figures,” he says. “I have no interested in (making art) — I just have a good eye.”
In some instances, Tucsonans will drop by the gallery, at 6530 E. Tanque Verde Road near North Kolb Road, with a piece of art to get looked at. If Kielsmeier is interested in the piece and doesn’t do an appraisal on it — citing a conflict of interest — he will buy the piece, add it to his website, and hold on to it at his gallery for locals or anyone else to potentially buy.
Most of the work he purchases to sell, though, comes from clients out of state. Sometimes clients will reach him by email with artwork that they think Kielsmeier might want to purchase.
“It comes down to the period, the artist and what it looks like,” Kielsmeier says. “It has to appeal to me to buy it — and most good art appeals to me.”
In other instances, he’ll help broker the pieces — for locals, museum referrals, families handling estates — and facilitate the sales to locations in other states and across the globe. He’s sold pieces in Poland, England, Germany, Australia, Mexico, China and, most recently, France.
But sometimes there isn’t much of a market for the fine art in question — in which case, the art might get donated to a local charity.
Unlike his gallery, which specializes in art from certain centuries and countries, Kielsmeier doesn’t focus on any specialties for his appraisal work. But Covington Gallery appraises only paintings, prints, watercolors, drawings and other works of art on paper and sculpture.
And Covington Gallery differs from your typical art gallery, where art usually plasters the walls. Instead, Covington Gallery is tucked behind a separate local art business — Leaping Lizard Gallery.
Years ago, Kielsmeier had leased additional space — enough room to create that typical gallery feel with art hanging on every wall. But because he estimated that about 90% of his clients come from out of state, there was no longer a need for that much physical space.
However, Tucsonans are able to search through his available artwork on the gallery’s website — covingtongallery.com — or drop by to take a look at some of the art in person.
Overall, though, Kielsmeier says he just wants to help people.
“I like to tell people: If you’re going to buy art, buy what you like,” he says. “But if it’s a big-ticket item, do your research. Because I hate to see people say they spent $10,000 for that and it’s really worth $3,000.”
“We’re always happy to help people look at pieces,” he says.
Contact reporter Gloria Knott at email@example.com or 573-4235. On Twitter: @gloriaeknott