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CAROLYN OSSORIO: Believe it, I've found a Picasso in downtown Renton

Owner and auctioneer Lawrence Mroczek, right, of Mroczek Brothers Auctioneers & Associates, and his son Grant Zahajko, also an auctioneer ,pose with two Pablo Picasso pieces that will be going up for auction on May 12 at their auction house on South Third Street in downtown Renton.  - Charles Cortes/Renton Reporter
Owner and auctioneer Lawrence Mroczek, right, of Mroczek Brothers Auctioneers & Associates, and his son Grant Zahajko, also an auctioneer ,pose with two Pablo Picasso pieces that will be going up for auction on May 12 at their auction house on South Third Street in downtown Renton.
— image credit: Charles Cortes/Renton Reporter

“That’s worth about $20 at auction,” Larry Mroczek said matter of factly.

As if he’d seen everything before, including me and my picture. The one I’d just lugged down Third Street with a frame the size of a small canoe.  Mroczek Brothers Auctioneers have been in business for more than 45 years. Larry is the patriarch of the family.

As we stood, Larry and I, considering the subject of my painting, the image of a woman peering deeply into a peach-sized glowing fireball held aloft in her fingertips.

“According to my husband,” I begin feeling a little like I’ve just pulled my Dorian Gray out of the attic, “I have unwittingly amassed art with a similar theme.” I smiled at Larry. The watercolor scroll was called “A Woman Searches the Unknown by Following her Heart.”

Larry was a bit intimidating. He was cool as a cucumber. His demeanor reminded me of a thousand-year-old vampire in the presence of an only slightly amusing human. I don’t mean to compare him to the undead — he was sophisticated in a worldly, no nonsense, Donald Trump sort of way.

And here I was wearing a Transformer T-shirt, black muddy leather boots and jeans with mud caked at the knees.

Larry didn’t need to know that just 10 minutes before I was on an impromptu dash across our waterlogged yard chasing after Tater. Amelia’s wily rabbit who had escaped, yet again.

I had caught the rabbit and despite muddy knees was determined to “catch” my story.

Mroczek’s have auctions on Thursday evenings in his downtown Renton business. I was there on a Friday morning, so I asked Larry to show me around.

I followed Larry through the store, maneuvering around thick-piled Oriental rugs and a section of the original home-team dugout from the Sick’s Stadium that went to a collector for more than $3,500.

“I went to Roosevelt High School; after school I would help out,” Larry offered as I fished out my notepad and pen.

The Mroczek business began as Seattle’s Auction Palace in 1966. They moved to downtown Renton 15 years ago. Larry’s wife, sons, nieces, nephews and even his mother answer the phones.

“At an auction there’s no favorite client.  Every person has an equal opportunity.”

I nodded appreciatively. Personally, I enjoy sifting through junk for buried treasure at thrift stores. Part of it is just practical; we have four kids and it just makes sense to reduce, reuse and recycle.

But I admit I have the heart of a picker and Larry’s knowledge was impressive. Since he had been picking and selling for 45 years, he seemed to know the value of, well, everything.

If he was a computer app I’d buy him.  I’d call it.  “Ask Larry.”  You could take the “Ask Larry” app everywhere and instantly know if what you were buying was worth anything. Right now, the live Larry was explaining trends.

“These days you can’t give furniture away,” Larry said, pointing to an antique hutch that had sold for a hundred bucks.  “At auctions you can find really good values.  Right now gold and silver are hot.”

The Mrozcek’s assist with estate sales — separating junk from the valuables like a farmer separates wheat from chaff.

“What’s this?” I ask peeling off like a banana toward a locked case.

“That’s a Picasso.” Larry said, nonchalantly. My eyes bulged with wonder.  A few months ago I had taken the kids to the Picasso exhibit at SAM.  It wasn’t quite the same but it was still pretty cool.

“Larry, after all these years, what gets your heart pumping?” I asked.

He walked me over to a nothing-special-looking old chest, something abandoned in anybody’s attic.

“The documents inside were from the Civil War,” he paused the beginnings of a Cheshire grin spread across his face.  “Four thousand dollars for the family at auction.”

I left my “Follow Your Heart Scroll.” It went up for auction yesterday.  If you’re a collector of follow-your-heart art, maybe I saw you there.

I love suggestions! If you know of people or places in Renton that surprise, delight and inspire the community, drop me a line at carolyn@pippimamma.com. Also follow Carolyn on her blog, www.pippimamma.com.

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