Joe Greene has found some interesting things that other people have thrown out, but he describes a recent find as nothing short of divine intervention.
The Stillwater resident is a self-proclaimed trash bin diver. He was looking for treasure when a piece of artwork, buried beneath piles of garbage, caught his eye.
A corner of the drawing’s frame had been chopped off, but the artwork was still protected by a pane of glass. That glass, however, was smeared in ketchup, covered by flies and stained by a thick layer of cigarette smoke and tar.
Greene said it was a miracle that with all that was piled on top of the drawing that the glass didn’t break. He said he had no idea what it was but there was something about the artwork’s lines that appealed to him.
Greene said he had room in his car’s trunk and stuck it in without much of a thought. A while later, Greene pulled the drawing — ketchup and all — out of his trunk to inspect his find.
“It stunk,” he said.
Greene flipped the drawing over and saw a photocopied newspaper article and information about a prize the drawing won at a 1967 art show in Taos, N.M. He also saw the artist’s name — Doel Reed.
“I had never heard of Doel Reed in my life,” Greene said.
He started researching Reed and learned more about his discovery.
Oklahoma State University Curator of Collections Louise Siddons said Reed was instrumental in art and at OSU.
“He was one of the major art department heads (at OSU),” Siddons said. “He often gets called the first art department head, which isn’t totally accurate, but he was certainly one of the longest running and did the most to build the art department. He was in the National Academy of Design ... he was an author and he was interviewed frequently by national art magazines and was probably one of the highest profile artists we’ve had on the faculty.”
According to an identification label from the 1967 New Mexico Fiesta-Biennial Exhibition found on the back of the drawing, the title of the artwork is “Near Ledoux” and was constructed from ink and crayon. Siddons said it’s a depiction of a tree lined avenue near Taos, N.M. where Reed resided.
“Its nice because it’s a local scene and often times he kind of has imaginary landscapes or he collages a bunch of landscapes together to make an imaginary landscape, so this is nice because it’s recognizable and local,” Siddons said.
Siddons said Reed had two major subjects in his work — nudes and landscapes.
When she found out that a work from Reed had been discovered, she assumed it was a print.
Reed was prolific, she said.
However, Siddon said, drawings are harder to come by. OSU had some drawings of Reed’s female figures, but no landscapes. She still didn’t know how the drawing was discovered.
“They had a little reception thing at Maxines and what’s funny is it was the first time that any of us had really seen it because it was covered in dirt and grime,” Siddons said.
She questioned why it was covered in dirt. Then it was revealed to her where the drawing was found.
“It was just kind of amazing revelation for me how this came about,” Siddons said.
She said she is excited the drawing has been donated to OSU.
“For us, it’s opportune because like I said, it’s unlike any other Doel Reed drawing,” she said.
She said Reed is certainly a big part of the story of arts at OSU.
“Regardless of who it was by, it was a fantastic drawing and it’s going to be a great teaching tool,” Siddons said. “And that makes it exciting.”
Greene’s wife, Dixie Anne Mosier-Greene, is celebrating her 50th year with OSU, which includes studying, being employed at the library and teaching classes.
It was her idea to donate the drawing to OSU, and Greene said when she paid to put the drawing into a new frame, he knew he lost his drawing.
Greene said its amazing the treasures people toss aside.
“When you drive down the street and the pile of stuff left (to throw out) after a garage sale is bigger than the house … that makes me sick,” he said.
Greene served as a military supply officer for the U.S Marine Corps during the Vietnam War. He bristles at the idea of Navy battlecruisers being left to rust and multimillion-dollar helicopters being dumped into the ocean during the fall of Saigon.
“Our society, we don’t really appreciate what we have,” Greene said.
After retiring from the U.S. Postal Service in 2009, Greene has stayed active by salvaging and recycling. When a friend was moving into a new house Greene was given a lamp that, with a little work and spray paint, he repurposed into a bird feeder. Greene said a few easy steps meant he was able to take an older item and extend its useful life rather than just sending it to the landfill.
“People don’t see things that way,” he said. “They see it as trash.”
Greene has donated other finds to the Sheerar Museum of Stillwater History.
He came across a family Bible at a used book sale. It had seven generations of births, marriages and deaths recorded in it.
Greene said he looked for the family so he could return the Bible, but couldn’t find anyone.
“I would give both my arms to have my family Bible with seven generations of history in it,” he said.
Ricky O'Bannon and Chase Rheam write for the Stillwater NewsPress.