Somerhill Gallery bankruptcy saga continues | Durham County | Indy Week

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Somerhill Gallery bankruptcy saga continues

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The latest chapter in Somerhill Gallery's bankruptcy case unfolded Tuesday as yet another artist came forward to allege gallery owner Joe Rowand had failed to pay him commission on artwork sold.

Richard Stenhouse of Charlotte, says he is owed $6,500 in commissions for five paintings that were sold at Somerhill since 2005. Stenhouse spoke to the Indy after a hearing at which trustee Sara Conti asked the court for permission to pay commissions to artists who had agreed to sell their work at auction last fall.

Located in Durham, the gallery has closed.

Stenhouse is not one of those artists who sold their work at the auction, but rather is among the dozens who are owed a total of at least $270,000, according to court documents. Stenhouse said that he didn't know Somerhill had sold—but not paid commissions on—some of his paintings until he went to the gallery last fall to pick up 15 pieces of artwork before the auction. "I was five pieces short," Stenhouse told the Indy. He said he conferred with a gallery employee who confirmed that the paintings had been sold. "I was furious," said Stenhouse, who had known Rowand for 30 years. "I wrote Joe a letter and told him I felt betrayed. I just wanted an explanation. I never heard back."

More than 150 artists, including Stenhouse, had agreements with Somerhill. Of those, only 28 either agreed that their artwork could be sold at the auction or they could not be reached, and thus their pieces were also sold.

The sales, held last September, generated $91,560, according to court documents. Minus artists' commissions, the money goes to creditors, which include banks and the gallery's landlord.

Rowand was not in court Tuesday; he has not answered repeated requests for comment.

As the Indy reported in a series of stories last fall, after Somerhill declared Chapter 7 bankruptcy, a review of the court documents and interviews with artists revealed that Rowand owed artists large sums of money. In some cases, Rowand allegedly didn't disclose that the work had sold. In other instances, Rowand allegedly told the artists their pieces hadn't sold when in fact, they had.

Conti told the court she is filing a claim against the sale of Rowand's personal assets in order to recover payments for the artists. Rowand declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy last year. His 4,500-square-foot home, which includes guest quarters and a saltwater swimming pool on 22 acres, is for sale for $2.5 million.

However, the court may not allow those claims. Individuals, such as Rowand, usually incorporate to shield their personal assets from liability.

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