When was the last time you had an opportunity to purchase artwork? Living in Wheeling, it’s a pretty easy thing to do. From gallery shows to student art exhibitions to craft fairs, it seems like there is always an opportunity to find something original to adorn your walls. These days, it feels like art is everywhere. So it may be hard to think that maybe, things weren’t always this easy. While there are certainly many reasons for the proliferation of fine art into society more broadly, could legendary horror actor Vincent Price be at least partly responsible? Perhaps…
Believe it or not, Vincent Price, known for his work in cult-horror classics like House of Wax and Roger Corman’s Edgar Allan Poe adaptations, was a lifelong art collector. Long before he lent his silky voice and malevolent laugh to the spoken-word monologue from Michael Jackson’s single Thriller, he spent his childhood saving his allowance to buy original artworks.1 He even studied art history at Yale during his undergrad, and it was only in graduate school that he discovered his passion for acting.2
Even as his acting career took off, he continued to keep a foot in the art world, striving to be an ambassador for the arts. At one point he operated an art gallery in Beverly Hills, donated a large collection of artworks to the East Los Angeles College, and appeared on a popular prime-time game show, the $64,000 Challenge to test his art mettle.3
In fact, Vincent Price even visited Wheeling with some art-related happenings. In July of 1959 he brought his show, “Dear Theo,” a dramatic reading of Vincent VanGogh’s letters, to Oglebay Amphitheater. 4
Vincent Price came to Wheeling in 1959 to perform “Dear Theo,” a dramatic reading of Vincent VanGogh’s letters to his brother, Theo. Wheeling Intelligencer, July 7, 1959.
An excerpt from Kitty Jefferson Doepken’s phone interview with Vincent Price. When he performed at Oglebay in 1959, he recalled staying at a “downtown hotel,” sandwiched between football fans and a Shriners convention. Sounds like a wild time! Wheeling News-Register, July 17, 1966.
While this performance at Oglebay is believed to be the only time Vincent visited the friendly city in the flesh, he would return years later, if only by name.
The Vincent Price Fine Art Collection
When The Sears, Roebuck & Co. Department store was located at Chapline and 11th street, it was just one of the many downtown department stores in Wheeling. From selling clothing, hardware, and appliances, to offering automotive services and photography at their portrait studio, Sears contained multitudes. Occasionally, special events would circulate through the store. For a few fateful days in July of 1966,5 Wheelingites could snag some fine art at their downtown Sears, too. And not just any art, but art hand-selected by Vincent Price himself.
The Sears Department store was located at 11th and Chapline until 1978, when it relocated to the Ohio Valley Mall. Note the familiar sign of the Paradox Bookstore which was next door. The bookstore is now at 2228 Market Street.
An advertisement for the Vincent Price Fine art collection. The collection of original artworks toured the country to select Sears stores in the 1960s. Customers who purchased art could take it home that day, rather than having to wait like at traditional gallery shows.
The Wheeling Sears store was just one of the roughly 250 locations that exhibited the Vincent Price Fine Art Collection in the 1960s. According to Price, this collection was “the most exciting project of [his] life.” Wheeling Intelligencer, July 21, 1966.
The Vincent Price Fine Art Collection was a traveling art collection exclusively sold at select Sears, Roebuck & Co. stores. Wheeling’s store was one of the locations selected for this showing, and the collection would come to town from July 21- 23, 1966. This unique sales effort was just one of the many tactics Vincent Price used to connect more “everyday Americans” to the fine arts. Despite being deeply devoted to the fine arts, he was not snobbish. He firmly believed that art was for everyone – and that even if someone’s tastes in art were different, it was still valid.6
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When asked about the collection coming to town, Sears manager W.E. Adams remarked, “We have put particular effort into this exhibit because of the substantial surge of interest here in quality fine art. Wheeling is sharing fully in the cultural ‘explosion’ that is sweeping the entire country.” Vincent Price echoed this enthusiasm, speaking about the collection generally, he referred to the effort as “the most exciting project of my life.” 7
Vincent Price even recorded a training video for Sears employees who would be assigned to work the collection when it came to town.
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It’s understood that at the time the Vincent Fine Art Collection program ended in 1971, it had sold over 50,000 original works of art.8 So where is all of this art today? Could it be hidden in plain sight? A quick internet search shows that artworks purchased from this collection occasionally end up on auction sites. Works sold through this program have a blue and white label attached to the back– perhaps there is one lurking in your family home?
• Kate Wietor is currently studying Architectural History and Historic Preservation at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia. She spent one glorious year in Wheeling serving as the 2021-22 AmeriCorps member at Wheeling Heritage. Since moving back to Virginia, she’s still looking for an antique store that rivals Sibs.
1 Vincent Price, I Like What I know: A Visual Autobiography. 1959. Doubleday & Co. Inc., New York, NY.