Indiana caretaker first witness in probate hearing for late artist

By Stephen Betts | Sep 12, 2018
Photo by: Stephen Betts Attorneys and the public await the start of a probate hearing at the Knox County Courthouse in Rockland concerning the estate of artist Robert Indiana.

Rockland — The longtime caretaker for world-renowned artist Robert Indiana testified Wednesday morning, Sept. 12, that he was paid nearly $500,000 in the final two years of the Vinalhaven artist's life.

Jamie Thomas was the first witness called to the stand in probate court at the Knox County Courthouse.

The hearing -- which Judge Carol Emery said was an extremely unusual one -- was requested by attorney James Brannan of Rockland, who is the personal representative of Indiana's estate. Brannan is trying to determine whether there are any assets of Indiana's that are owed to the estate.

The estate is currently valued at $50 million.

Indiana, best known for his iconic LOVE image, died May 19 at the age of 89 of natural causes at his home.

Attorneys representing Thomas and other individuals and organizations that did business with Indiana opposed having the hearing open to the public.

Emery ruled that the hearing would be open to the public, but if  confidential information were sought, such as business trade secrets, she would close the hearing and listen to the testimony before deciding whether it could be repeated in public.

Thomas testified that he worked for Indiana for about 10 years beginning in 1989, and again from 2013 through Indiana's death. He began working for the artist for $15 an hour, but in the final years, when he held power of attorney, he was paid $5,000 a week plus bonuses.

Thomas said he was on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. He said he gave up lobstering to work for Indiana.

From April 2016 through May 2018, Thomas was paid $490,000.

In addition, Thomas made cash withdrawals from Indiana's bank accounts totaling $615,000 during the same period. Thomas said those were all made at the request of Indiana. Thomas said only one of the withdrawals went to him -- $35,000 for a vehicle -- which was at Indiana's request. Thomas said he did not know what Indiana did with the other withdrawals.

Thomas also received 118 works of art from Indiana as gifts.

The hearing was held on a petition by Brannan to have the court order Thomas, the Morgan Arts Foundation, Michael McKenzie, and American Image to provide documentation of any assets they may have that belong to the estate, including contracts for royalties.

Indiana's will stipulates that proceeds from his estate be used to restore his home, the Star of Hope on Vinalhaven, to museum quality. The museum would serve as an art environment open to the public for visits, classes and lectures and for the continued preservation of his collection and real estate.

The will directed that Thomas be the executive director of the museum.

The Attorney General's Office is monitoring the disposition of the estate because of its size and because a large portion is earmarked for a charity.

The second person to testify Wednesday was Michael McKenzie, an artist and art dealer from New York. He said he had no works of Indiana's, having already turned over 66 works of art to the personal representative.

McKenzie said Indiana often referred to Thomas as his best friend.

Testifying in the afternoon were Simon Salama-Caro, an adviser to the Morgan Art Foundation, and his son Marc Salama-Caro. Both worked to promote Indiana's work.

The older Salama-Caro  said Morgan does not owe Indiana's estate any money.

He said that the action taken by the estate in the current probate action has caused the value of Indiana's works to drop significantly. He did not explain why that was the case.

Comments (1)
Posted by: johanna stadler | Sep 17, 2018 17:44

well damn why can't I find a job like this???

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