How What I Painted Wound Up with Madoff

Painting by David Tyndall
Painting by David Tyndall

This is one of those “when worlds collide stories” that always seem to land in the Hamptons. The cast includes the infamous swindler Bernie Madoff, whose crimes were tagged “extraordinarily evil” by the judge who sentenced him to 150 years behind bars; the president of the Bridgehampton Bank who loaned a young man named Dan money to start his own newspaper; and a talented artist known as “unknown” according to the U.S. Marshall assigned to execute Bernie’s Big Yard Sale to benefit his swindled victims.

This strange world collision began with a letter bearing the headline: “This letter is for David Tyndall, the artist.”

David Tyndall is indeed an artist, an extraordinarily talented painter. His work is represented by Chrysalis Gallery in Southampton and he is known for capturing the architectural beauty unique to the East End. He has painted barns and cupolas, the Sag Harbor movie theater, local churches and quaint shops and a variety of other arresting architectural images.

David’s love and appreciation for the East End runs deep. His great-grandfather was Richard Tyndall, a nurseryman for the Kahle estate, a sprawling jewel in Bridgehampton that ran from the corner of Ocean Road to Church Lane back in the day, the day being the 1860s. Richard Tyndall built his own family house in the 1860s, conveniently located on a flag lot on Church Lane, thereby making his commute to work on the Kahle estate simply a matter of crossing the road. [expand]

Richard had a son named Merton who also had an easy commute, in fact he had two easy commutes. First to his Bridgehampton Public School, which was located on what is today the baseball diamond next to the Bridgehampton Fire Department on the appropriately named School Street. Merton’s second easy commute was to his job at The Bridgehampton Bank, now the site of Starbucks on Main Street. Merton had worked his way up to bank president and served the bank for more than 50 years including during the stock market crash of 1929 and The Great Depression. David recalled how his grandfather was very proud of the fact that he was able to keep the bank open during the crash and Depression and steer it toward a solid future by helping the local farmers maintain their loans and investments through the very worst of times. It was this honorable track record that enabled Merton, decades later, to take a chance on a young man who dreamed of starting his own newspaper called Dan’s Papers. Merton Tyndall, on a handshake, gave Dan his first start-up loan and the rest, as they say, is history.

Tyndall family history includes Tyndall Point, that gorgeous piece of land where you leave Sag Harbor by ferry for Shelter Island. Tyndall Road in Noyac is also named for David’s ancestors. With roots this deep it was a given that David would grow up summering in Bridgehampton, even when his father Richard had moved his family to Michigan to work as a director of manufacturing. Every summer the Tyndalls would return to Bridgehampton for an extended stay and catch up with family and friends, including those potato farmers Merton helped keep going through the Great Depression. And every summer young David would drink in the sights unique to this area and eventually put them on canvas as he grew up to be an accomplished painter.

Years ago Chrysalis Gallery in Southampton began representing David’s work and every summer David returns to Bridgehampton. Now he brings his own family of four children and his wife Pam, to carry on the Tyndall tradition in the house that his grandfather built in the 1860s, so he could walk to work as the nurseryman on a large estate off Ocean Road.

And then, as is apt to happen, worlds collided. That letter arrived, the one headlined “For David Tyndall, the artist.” It began:

“Dear David,

We met you a few years ago at Chrysalis Gallery in Southampton and have been a fan of yours…..”

The writer went on to inform David that she and her husband had recently purchased one of David’s barn paintings at a Bernie Madoff auction to recover money for Madoff’s swindled victims. She was hoping she had contacted David Tyndall, the artist, in Michigan to find out more about the location of the barn so lovingly captured on canvas.

“We are the new owners of it and are very happy…It has a nice home now and we will cherish it!” the new owners happily reported.

“My first reaction was ‘I wonder whose money he used to buy it,’” said David referring to Bernie the world’s most infamous swindler. Like most people, David had watched in fascination as the Madoff scandal broke and then spread like wildfire. Like many, David was struck by the extent of Madoff’s destruction and the fact that he not only swindled “the little guys” but also the presumably more savvy bold-faced names.

David’s second response when he learned that Madoff had one of his paintings was that he found himself contemplating Madoff’s taste in art. “My paintings are like my children, I spend a lot of time with them,” he said, so he knew immediately what barn the new owner of the painting was asking about. “It’s a peaceful scene, the kind of scene I am drawn to, usually with peeling paint, the sense of history and time passing.” The barn sits on a small rise, back from the road but clearly visible from Main Street in Wainscott, not far from the Wainscott Chapel. “I don’t picture him [Madoff] having any interest in the small quiet sense of it, the peaceful world out here. I picture him more modern with cars and boats and flashy watches.”

Watches indeed. David Googled the Bernie Madoff auction being held by the U.S. Marshal. He began to scroll through page after page of items, including “all those watches! It seemed like thousands,” David said. He persevered and finally there it was, the barn, lovingly preserved on canvas. “There was lots of sports equipment, miscellaneous junk, it looked like someone was cleaning out their garage. In the back was an easel with my painting on it. Not exactly a gallery show! There was also an inventory included with the picture that itemized each item by lot number. I found my painting and it said something about realistic barn painting, oil on board, the year and Tyndall, unknown artist, that was the worst part!”

Later David would be happy to learn that it sold for $2,000 even though the estimate on it was a mere $210-$240. And he was decidedly not an unknown artist because the couple that bought his painting were already true-blue fans. He ended up inviting the new owners to meet him once again at Chrysalis Gallery to enjoy his recent work.

And what would his grandfather Merton Tyndall, the former bank president who helped potato farmers stay the course during The Great Depression, think of Bernie Madoff’s crime of the century? “Today’s financial world, the kind of money that changes hands, it’s so unlike their world,” David mused. “Bridgehampton was a little farming community known for its potatoes. It was such a different way of life than today.”

Indeed, back then a young dreamer who yearned to start his own newspaper could get a meeting with a bank president and secure a start-up loan to chase that dream because the bank president recognized a good man’s character when he saw it. Back then a man’s handshake and word of honor were his collateral. Then again, that’s what seems to be at the heart of the Bernie Madoff swindle of the century. A handshake and promise to do the right thing. Except in Madoff’s case, his honor was non-existent.

For paintings by David Tyndall contact Chrysalis Gallery, 2 Main St., Southampton. 631-287-1883. To view his work visit [/expand]

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