September 20, 2018
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Lawyer for artist Robert Indiana’s estate grills caretaker about finances

By Lauren Abbate, BDN Staff
Updated:

ROCKLAND, Maine — The caretaker who oversaw personal and business transactions for Robert Indiana during the final years of his life said during a court hearing Wednesday that the late artist paid him nearly $500,000 during the two years before he died.

Indiana, the renowned pop artist best known for his ‘LOVE’ series, died in May at his Vinalhaven home where he lived since the late 1970s.

Jamie Thomas of Vinalhaven served as Indiana’s caretaker for about a decade beginning in 1989, and then again from 2013 until the artist’s death. Thomas was one of four witnesses who testified Wednesday at a probate hearing in Knox County court on the matter of Indiana’s estate.

Indiana’s attorney, James Brannan, requested Wednesday’s hearing in an attempt to determine if there are any assets that are owed to Indiana’s estate, which is currently estimated at about $60 million, according to Brannan. Brannan is the personal representative of Indiana’s estate and was represented by attorney Margaret Minister at the hearing.

Others who testified had decades of history with Indiana, including his longtime agent, Simon Salama-Caro; Michael McKenzie, who did business with Indiana personally and through his business American Image Art; and Simon Salama-Caro’s son, Marc, who worked with Indiana on projects through the time of the artist’s death.

Simon Salama-Caro also represented the Morgan Arts Foundation at Wednesday’s hearing. Thomas, and the other witnesses have been asked to present documentation on any assets they may have that belong to the estate.

Thomas said that when he first started working for Indiana around 1989, he was assigned to prepare the artist’s studios among other tasks and was paid $15 an hour, with a later increase to $25 an hour.

When Thomas returned to work for Indiana in 2013, he said he was being paid about $1,000 a week and took on more of a caretaker role, bringing the artist his meals and looking after his dog. At some point he said his pay was increased to about $1,500 to $2,000.

“He wanted to compensate me so I didn’t have to go lobstering,” Thomas said.

In 2016, Thomas took on the role of attorney-in-fact for Indiana, handling all of the artist’s finances, both personal and pertaining to Indiana’s foundation. During this period, and until Indiana’s death, Thomas said he was paid about $5,000 a week plus “bonuses.”

Thomas’ total compensation in the final two years of Indiana’s life was about $490,000.

An attorney-in-fact exercises power of attorney for an individual — but not for trusts in which that individual is involved — while that person is alive.

During the final years of Indiana’s life, Thomas said he was on-call 24/7. “I didn’t go anywhere,” he said. “I was always within 10 minutes of his house.”

As attorney-in-fact, Thomas made cash withdrawals of about $615,000 from Indiana’s bank account, according to Minister. Thomas said this money was only given to Indiana and was withdrawn at his request, though he does not have that authorization in writing.

Indiana also gave Thomas $35,000 for a vehicle and about 118 works of art.

During his testimony, McKenzie said that Indiana often referred to Thomas as “his best living friend.”

In his will, Indiana instructed that his Vinalhaven home and studio, known as the Star of Hope Lodge, be turned into a museum and nonprofit organization, which has already been created under the name, Star of Hope Inc. The will states that Indiana’s estate will be used to fund the museum. The will also stipulates that Thomas will serve as the executive director.

McKenzie and the Salama-Caros testified Wednesday that they do not have any items belonging to Indiana’s estate. McKenzie, an art dealer based in New York who began working with Indiana in the 1990s, said he has already turned over 66 pieces of artwork produced by Indiana to the estate.

Brannan said they have located 645 pieces of artwork made by Indiana, either on the premises of his home and studio or recovered from other individuals — such as the 66 held by McKenzie.

Probate Judge Carol Emery said the witnesses who appeared Wednesday will not be called back. But Brannan said he intends to request additional probate hearings with testimony from other individuals, to try to locate more assets that may belong to the estate.

He said he will request that representatives of three art galleries that Marc Salama-Caro said in court are holding pieces by Indiana testify.

Brannan said that no lawsuits have been filed “yet” on behalf of Indiana’s estate, but that is something he is “interested” in pursuing.

A day before Indiana died, the Morgan Art Foundation filed a lawsuit in New York, alleging that Thomas and McKenzie isolated Indiana and produced fraudulent artworks under his name.

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