Teri Horton, a Costa Mesa resident who gained worldwide notoriety for her long quest to authenticate and sell a painting that some believe is an original Jackson Pollock work, died last week at age 86.
Horton was a familiar face in the community by sight, if not by name. Many afternoons, Horton — her petite form sporting pressed jeans and neatly done hair and makeup — could be found standing on the median at Dover Drive and West Coast Highway in Newport Beach holding a handwritten cardboard sign seeking donations, though the sign said she didn’t like asking for money. Her son paid her rent and other expenses, but her penchant for playing lottery scratchers motivated her to accept cash from strangers, he said.
Her notoriety came about after she bought a $5 thrift shop painting that eventually made her the subject of a 2006 documentary film titled “Who the $&% Is Jackson Pollock?” The name was borrowed from her initial response to an art teacher who saw the painting in a yard sale Horton was having in 1992 and suggested it could be an original by Pollock, a late American abstract expressionist known for his “drip and splash” style.
After forensic art expert Paul Biro concluded that the 66-by-48-inch painting was real, Horton set out to sell it for what she called a “fair price.”
However, Biro’s scientific findings weren’t enough to convince art connoisseurs or the International Foundation for Art Research that the painting was authentic. Among the obstacles was the fact that it had been purchased at a thrift shop, was unsigned and was without a record of its history.
Horton — whose health declined during the past 10 months, according to her son, Bill Page — never sold the painting. Over the years, she declined $2 million from an art dealer and $9 million from a collector.
“Mom had the belief that she could get $50 million,” Page said. “I think it’s worth closer to $10 [million] to $15 million. It has a value because it was Teri Horton’s and the subject of a movie known around the world and shown in art classes.”
Horton’s instructions to him, he said, were, “Sell that damn painting, but don’t you dare give it away.”
Page said they tried everything to sell the painting. They met with people who were interested in it, and traveled to New York last year to the International Foundation for Art Research and the Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center. He said they met with the museum director about re-doing the forensics and were refused. A request to IFAR for reconsideration of authentication also was denied, Page said.
Helen Harrison, director of the Pollock-Krasner House, said Tuesday that Horton and Page did not request another forensic study when they visited in May 2018.
“I took a shine to Teri,” Harrison added. “She was a forthright person and I appreciate that.”
Sharon Flescher, executive director of IFAR, said in an email Tuesday that Horton and Page did not ask the foundation to reexamine the painting but did discuss their ongoing research.
“We undertook extensive research on Ms. Horton’s painting [around 2002] and, as with all our projects, involved renowned specialists who examined the work over a period of time,” Flescher said. “It was our opinion, based on the unanimous opinions of the experts we consulted and also on current scholarship ... that the painting was not by Jackson Pollock.”
“For my mom, this was her baby,” Page said. “She controlled everything. She would stop a sale because she felt it was worth more.
“I’d take $50 million if the painting could be authenticated, but I’m being a realist and not going to fight the art world like my mom did.”
Page’s goal is to have whoever agrees to buy the painting authenticate it and examine the forensics. “Somebody who buys it may have more power and access to the interior workings of the art world,” Page said.
He plans to create a website called Teri’s Find in the next few months and circulate the link around the world.
Recent developments may help facilitate a sale. Page now has a notarized statement that he and his mother obtained from Claude and Christian Carone, sons of late Pollock expert Nicolas Carone. The sons had been reluctant until now to share publicly that their father had felt the painting was real. But they acquiesced after Horton and Page met with them during the trip to New York.
Horton’s health problems began in August when she was diagnosed with bladder cancer and a heart blockage. When the cancer spread to her liver in March, she started immunotherapy infusion treatment in hopes of slowing the growth.
On June 27, she entered a hospice program at her son’s house in Ladera Ranch and died July 8 with her son, daughter-in-law and brother by her side.
Page said hundreds of people posted their condolences on Horton’s Facebook page during the last two weeks of her life. Among them was Renée Poissant of Irvine, who began a friendship with Horton when she was a customer at the Costa Mesa bank where Poissant worked.
She recalled Horton inviting her to see the painting and how she had been afraid to touch it. “Teri started cursing at me and told me to … touch it,” Poissant said with a laugh. “She was stubborn and feisty in a good way, and that’s what I liked about her.”
Dave Plouffe, who teaches art appreciation at Cal State Fullerton and has seen the painting a couple of times, became interested in Horton’s story while watching a “60 Minutes” interview with her in 2007, when he was in graduate school. Once the DVD of the documentary came out in 2008, it became a staple in Plouffe’s classes. Horton spoke to his class after he sought her out in 2011, he said.
“It makes a wonderful argument like a David and Goliath, standing up for what’s right, and she never wavers,” Plouffe said. “There’s been a changing of the guard [in the art world] from ‘Because I said so’ to scientific fact.”
Horton, who drove a big rig for 20 years, retired in 1987 after a trucking accident. She took up hunting for bargain treasures, sometimes rummaging in trash bins for objects that stores had discarded — like a genuine Ebel watch worth more than $2,000.
“She’s always been very special, and I loved hearing her truck stories,” Plouffe said. “She’s had a wonderful, unique life.”
Susan Hoffman is a contributor to Times Community News.
This article was originally published at 5 p.m. July 15 and was later updated with additional information and comments.