An unknown artist's work left inside the small Long Island bungalow where he once lived has been valued at up to $30 million.
The artwork was discovered by Tom Schultz in 2006 when he bought the cottage and detached garage in Bellport as an investment property for around $300,000.
Schultz, a former deli owner and a father of three, had been instructed by the cottage's previous owners to throw all the works away, but as he looked over the collection of almost 7,000 paintings, drawings and journals, he just couldn't get rid of them.
"It was just someone's life's work, and it doesn't belong in a Dumpster," he said.
The art was by an obscure Armenian-American painter named Arthur Pinajian, a decorated World War II veteran and former comic book illustrator. He'd lived with his sister in Bellport until his death in 1999.
Friends like Nick DiPaolo, who works at the local natural food store Pinajian often visited, remember him as a simple man who painted for the love of it.
"I don't believe he was selling any work at all," said DiPaolo. "It didn't seem to bother him at all that he was not getting recognition."
The anonymity ended when Schultz presented Pinajian's works to historians and art appraisers like Peter Hastings Falk, who once appraised art from the Andy Warhol estate.
Falk describes Pinajian's paintings as lyrical abstract landscapes. One art historian called Pinajian a "brilliant colorist" who displayed "genius" in his work.
Pinajian's paintings have now been displayed and sold in galleries from New York to Los Angeles, and his art, once abandoned as trash, is being valued by some at between $25 to $35 million. Some pieces already have sold for $500,000. Fifty of his landscapes are currently on exhibit at Manhattan's Fuller Building.
"He wrote in his journal that he always wanted a show in New York," Schultz said. "We think he's smiling down on us now.
As for why Schultz saw treasure while others saw trash, the father of three credits his own dad, whose death, Schultz said, taught him to appreciate the value of a man's life's work.