Bay Area Proud

Thrift Store Shopper Reunites Painting with Artist’s Family

"It's what life's about, really. You give back when you can."

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When Matt Fitzsimmons prowls the aisles of East Bay thrift stories, looking for hidden treasures he can turn a profit off of, it's more an art than a science.

Which may explain why many of his best finds are in the art section.

"Well, I think I've developed an eye for it," Fitzsimmons said.

This story, though, is about a painting Matt purchased that turned out to be worth much more than he paid for it ... just not in terms of money.

"I get a little choked up," Fitzsimmons said. "It's what life's all about really, right?"

The painting Fitzsimmons purchased for $12.99 features black figures in front of a burning city. By the style of it, Fitzsimmons guesses it was painted in the late 60s or early 70s.

"I just looked at it and looked at it. There's so much going on," Fitzsimmons said.

Just like any other piece of art Fitzsimmons purchases from thrift stores, he began doing research to see what the painting might be worth. He was able to establish it was painted by Ernest Frohm, Jr., an Oakland-based artist.

A little more searching led Fitzsimmons to Frohm's sister, Iris Frohm Corina, who shared with the story of her brother's turbulent life and his death more than a decade ago. She also shared that Frohm had a son, Ernest III, who ran a martial arts studio in Oakland who would love to have the painting.

"He had his struggles," Frohm said about his father.

Frohm III, who now mentors many Oakland youth, says his father was largely absent from his upbringing.

"The relationship was that I knew I looked like him," Frohm said. "I saw his art but I didn't know him." Frohm says seeing his father's artwork allows him to better understand the man in a way he was never able to before.

"It gives me an insight into what he was thinking," Frohm said.

Upon hearing all that, Fitzsimmons knew immediately what the value of the painting was: it was priceless to the family.

He gave it to Frohm for free.

"We all want to make money, right?" Fitzsimmons said. "But I listened to these folks and it just touched me. It touched me like the painting did and I couldn't keep it."

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