Skip to main content


Couple traded grilled cheese sandwich for a $272,548 painting 

Kinnear would only ever order a grilled cheese sandwich, which he exchanged for a selection of painting from him and his friends

May 27, 2022 4:32pm

Updated: May 27, 2022 6:26pm

In the 1970s, Irene Demas and her husband Tony would trade dishes at their restaurant for the talents of the locals, including bakers, craftsmen, and artisans. One of these exchanges gave them something they could have never imagined: a painting by the acclaimed Canadian folk artist Maud Lewis, which is now worth thousands of dollars. 

Painter John Kinnear and his wife would go the Villa, Irene’s restaurant, almost every day for lunch. And every time, Kinnear would only ever order a grilled cheese sandwich, which he exchanged for a selection of painting from him and his friends. 

“Mind you, it wasn’t just an ordinary grilled cheese. It was a great sandwich, with a five-year-old cheddar and beautiful bread,” said Irene. “I could not convince Mr. Kinnear to have anything else.”

Irene said that on one occasion, Kinnear came to the restaurant with a selection of paintings and propped them up on the restaurant tables and chairs. “Pick the one you like,” he said.

“I just sat there in silence for quite a while. I’d never ever seen any art like that before. At first, I thought they might be playing or some sort of trick on me,” she said of the works of art. “Did a kid do some of these?”

The only painting that stood out to Irene that day was one of a black truck—she thought it might look good in her son’s room.  

Kinnear told them that it belonged to a woman who was “so poor she didn’t have the right things to paint on.” He had given her boards for painting, which he returned with completed works. 

Irene and Tony never imagined that the painting they traded for a $1.95 sandwich would be worth a fortune. Lewis went on to become one of Canada’s most famous folk artists after her death. One of the pieces was sold for a record $52,394 in November 2021. 

While the Demases had thought about auctioning Lewis’ work previously, they finally decided to appraise a few items when they downsized their home. Miller & Miller Auctions valued the painting at around $27,255. 

“It wasn’t an easy decision. It was part of our history,” Demas said. “I knew that the right person was going to come along and would see something special in that painting that we had seen all those years ago.”

On May 14, in a virtual auction, the painting sold for $272,548, surpassing its assessed value. 

“Off the charts is an understatement,” said Ethan Miller, chief executive officer at the auction house. “I think everybody saw in this painting exactly what Maud intended, which is brightness, optimism, and fun.”