From Footballs to Puppets, KC Auction Company Puts Kansas City’s Past on the Block

Owner Jason Roske Loves the Objects, Their Owners and Their Stories

Growing up in Minnesota, Jason Roske was frequently dragged to garage sales by his mother, whom he describes as an “avid accumulator,” rather than a collector. His lack of enthusiasm for her shopping forays evaporated once he realized that these sales presented ample opportunities for him to acquire toys.

As an adult, Roske began to sell items he had collected when he needed to raise some cash, and soon this occasional financial enterprise developed into a full-time job. He began to buy for resale rather than himself and set up shop at various flea markets, all the while paying a great deal of attention to what other people were offering, their prices and what was actually selling.

Starting an auction business was a natural evolution; by 2002 Roske was living in Kansas City and felt strongly that it needed an auction house with frequent sales. He founded KC Auction Company four years later to fill that gap.

When he spotted a compact brick house in Quality Hill, Roske thought it would be the perfect home for his business. It was built in 1877 by the original owner, Peyton Montgomery, who worked in the stockyards as a “commission man,” a profession akin to that of an auctioneer. Perhaps it was karma for Roske’s KC Auction Company to be headquartered there as of 2013.

Roske’s specialties include full or partial estates, and he works closely with family members to ensure their comfort level. All lots are presented online, with photographs, descriptions and notes as to the condition. The items are listed without an estimate (the auctioneer’s best guess as to what something might sell for) and sold without a reserve or minimum price.

Roske firmly believes that most items will fetch higher prices when prospective buyers are not swayed by any preconceived notion of their worth. Bidding online takes place for two weeks prior to the auction. Each lot is given a tentative end time and in cases where prospective buyers are still competing at the last moment, the closing is postponed for another five minutes, until one bidder prevails.

As someone who organizes area estate sales, Dennis Howell has had occasion to give KC Auction Company property that he has been unable to sell. “I have consigned American Indian rugs, a Sevres vase, antique furniture, all kinds of things, and Jason has sold it all for top dollar.

“Jason is very knowledgeable but is willing to share his information,” Howell added. “I find him to be honest and I trust him.”

Roske holds one or two auctions each month (he had approximately 17 sales in 2017), and averages about 4,000 lots annually. His bidders hail from all 50 states as well as outside the U.S.; their ages are as diverse as their zip codes. While the average age of a buyer is now 48, this number has decreased in the last decade. And contrary to what you may have read, Roske likes to point out that millennials are buying.

“We have seen a huge increase in young buyer participation in our auctions since we went to online bidding,” he said. “They like the fact that they can peruse our catalog when it’s convenient for them.”

Social media does play a big part in his marketing. With frequent posts on Instagram, Roske has discovered that better photography delivers better responses from the public. He also hosts a Facebook podcast, “Behind the Gavel,” where he might address how one assesses the age of a piece of furniture or ponder the question, “Should children be allowed to touch art?”

A passion for KC history
Roske is passionate about Kansas City and its history and enjoys recounting the details of some sales which have represented the city and its inhabitants. “Whether that’s seeing past politics with the Ike Skelton collection, reliving KC sports glory with the Bill Grigsby collection or exposing the world to the (art)works of John Douglas Patrick, we get excited,” he said.

Not so long ago, Roske was contacted by the family of Bill Grigsby, the longtime announcer for the Chiefs, about selling a player piano. Although that item never made it to auction, Roske did find some others he was able to sell. One was a football from the 1969 World Champion season which had been casually stored, deflated, in a garbage bag. It sold for a little over $3,000 in 2017.

An oil and tempera study by Thomas Hart Benton titled “Roosterville Farm” was sold at KC Auction in 2016. When the owner was a child, his family had been neighbors of the artist in the Valentine district. They invited Benton to the family farm in Clay County, where the consignor modelled for the artist. He is seen in a cowboy hat sitting by the lake; a friend and Rita Benton, the wife of the artist, stand on the dock in the distance.
A mere 8.5 x 6.5 inches, the work fetched $64,975 (which includes buyers premium), making it the most expensive (non-real estate) property that Roske has sold to date.

Through 7 p.m. Sept. 16, KC Auction Company is offering a collection from the estate of DoLores Hadley, well-known to locals as the “Puppet Lady.” One Christmas, as a struggling single mother to four children, she opted to make each of her children a hand puppet as their gift. Hadley continued to make puppets; she moved on to creating marionettes and then began performing with them.

Her earliest jobs were at birthday parties or PTA meetings, but gradually she began to get regular gigs at local parks and the Kansas City Zoo. From 1973 to 1995, Hadley’s puppets, known as La Famille Marionettes, appeared on a stage in a brightly painted gypsy wagon at Worlds of Fun. Each summer she would present 10 to 12 new puppets, from familiar storybook characters to personalities totally of her imagination.

Hadley’s artistic skills were immediately apparent in the vivid characters she brought to life. Although fashioned from papier-mâché, the puppets could be easily mistaken for carved wood. Her fashion design studies at KCAI may explain the perfectly executed and authentic details of the costumes.

In performance, the marionettes, usually in pairs, would wordlessly interact with each other while Hadley remained in full view, pulling their strings. She gave 10 shows a day, never more than 15 minutes long, and her children all helped.

“Even now, I am really in awe of all that my mother was able to accomplish,” her son Dan Hadley said in a recent interview. “She succeeded in supporting her family with her performances and puppetry, always managing to find work in unexpected places.”

Hadley fondly recalls the humor his mother instilled in her puppets: Her Jack-Be-Nimble marionette was not particularly young or nimble, and he had great difficulty getting over the candlestick, as evidenced by his permanently singed coattails.

At one time, Hadley had as many as 300 puppet creations; now the family has decided to sell around 100 of them along with some of her paintings and drawings.

Roske, with his love for Kansas City and its history, can provide the perfect venue.

For more information and bidding visit www.kcauctioncompany.com.

Nan Chisholm

Nan Chisholm is an art consultant and appraiser of 19th- and 20th-century paintings. After a long association with Sotheby’s, she founded her own business in 2003. She has appeared as a fine art appraiser on “Antiques Roadshow” since its inception in 1995.

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