Wanda's son didn't exactly share his mother's enthusiasm. "I was embarrassed," says Brian, 25, who now owns an engine-repair shop in nearby Murfeesboro, where Bell also runs her Keepsakes Antiques Mall. "My friends would come over, and she'd call him Uncle George, and then I'd have to make up a story about him."
Not anymore. On Aug. 16, Bell, 52, discovered that Uncle George is worth an estimated $250,000. The portrait, it turns out, is an early work by Sheldon Peck (1797-1868), a sought-after American folk artist whose works have hung in New York City's Whitney Museum of American Art. "I'm in a daze," says Bell. "I never dreamed it was valuable. I thought it might be a fake."
Hardly. Determined to uncover George's true provenance, Bell stuffed him into a plastic garbage bag and drove to the Nashville Convention Center, where Chubb's Antiques Roadshow, the PBS series that invites people to have their antiques—real or imagined—appraised free, was taping an episode (to air in early 1998). Bell, whose antiquing coups include paying $600 for a Weber baby grand piano that's now unofficially worth $20,000, waited in line with 4,000 other collectors. Four hours later two of the program's appraisers recognized the portrait as an original Peck, but decided to withhold the news until Bell was on-camera. When they asked if she'd agree to don makeup for the taping, "I thought that was fantastic," she gushes, "because I'd always wanted a makeover." Then, upon hearing Uncle George's true value, Bell could only stare. "I was stunned, overwhelmed," she recalls.
So was her husband, Robert, 53, a Nissan plant maintenance manager, who says the Peck, now locked away in a vault, "will be for sale, that's for sure." Most of the proceeds will go toward the couple's retirement. But first they plan to splurge on a cruise. That's good news to Brian. "My parents have worked hard," he says. "They need to relax. Uncle George has made that possible."
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