Local man made a career of selling art, publishing original prints

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If there’s one thing J. Norman Henry has, it’s art.

For decades, he made a living buying and selling original paintings, publishing original prints and collecting works from his many travels. He estimates his collection of framed pieces somewhere in the hundreds and unframed pieces in the thousands. And while he recalls clearly where he acquired some of the more significant pieces, there are others with less memorable origins.

He and wife Barbara have been Florida residents for about five years, but prior to that they made their home in New Jersey, where they kept a warehouse full of art. Then, last month, as they prepared to sell their home up north, they emptied the warehouse and transported its contents to Palm Valley.

“It was a nightmare getting it out,” Henry said. “We had two huge truckloads of stuff coming down.”

Much of that art now hangs on the walls of houses the Henrys own.

Asked what he intends to do with it, Henry replied, “That’s the $64 question.”

But art aficionados may want to check out his website, flanagangraphics.com, where works by more than 100 artists can be found and purchased. Here, those in the know will recognize pieces by Jan Balet, Roy Carruthers, Michel Delacroix, Ren Gruau, Peter Heard, Gian Carlo Impiglia, Bruce McCombs, Edwina Sandys and others of note.

Though he is no artist himself, Henry has roots in the collection of art. His great-grandfather was a connoisseur.

“He had a collection that he devoted the last part of his life to,” said Henry. “He donated the collection to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.”

For the first 20 years of Henry’s professional life, he worked in the investment business. Then, he went on a business trip to Haiti early in the 1970s and discovered that he liked Haitian art.

“I bought 50 paintings without knowing anything about what I was doing,” he said.

Through a friend living in La Jolla, California, he was able to sell every piece.

“It was incredible,” he said. “I went and bought 50 more. I kept buying more. I sold tons and tons of it.”

His next discovery was Oku — Shigeo Okumura — but this venture, too, remained more hobby than career. Eventually, that would change.

In the late 1970s, he began to publish original prints. But he didn’t make any real money until he signed a contract with British artist Beryl Cook.

“I was very lucky,” he said. “My mother was in London in 1976. She went into this gallery. She said, ‘I saw an artist I think you’d really like.’”

A visit to the gallery confirmed his mother’s judgment: He did like Cook’s work.

“Beryl Cook was the most wonderful artist to deal with,” he said, looking back over his career in the world of fine art.

And while Henry has a wealth of anecdotes about some of the big names he’s known in the art and collecting worlds, Cook seems to hold a special place for him.

“Beryl only painted about six paintings a year,” he said. “I know every painting she’s done.”

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