MEMPHIS, Tenn. – A man accused of using a high-quality printer to forge the paintings of Memphis Artist Nancy Cheairs has been ordered to pay Cheairs $2.1 million.
Mark Thomas was found guilty in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee of forging at least 14 paintings created by Cheairs, selling four to one customer, and trying to sell four others to another client.
Cheairs’ attorney Irma Merill said the decision is a victory for the art community.
“Nancy Cheairs brought this case not so much for herself but for every artist who has ever had their work stolen,” said Merrill.
According to a lawsuit filed by Cheairs in July 2020, Thomas and another man, “John Doe,” somehow acquired the paintings, had them scanned and printed on canvasses, and forged Cheairs’ signature.
Thomas brought a number of paintings to Memphis Professional Imaging.
The owner testified that Thomas signed MPI’s copyright release forms stating that he had the right to make copies of the paintings and that making copies would not be a copyright infringement.
Cheairs has made a name for herself in the Memphis art world. Over the years, she has displayed her work in the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, The Children’s Museum of Memphis, and the Tennessee State Museum, to name a few.
In 2020, she learned Thomas was selling a number of her paintings out of a home on Peppertree Lane in East Memphis and discovered they were forgeries.
One man paid $5,000 for four of the fake paintings. The originals are valued at up to $5,000 each.
Thomas told the buyer he had a fatal disease and was trying to sell the artwork before he died to save his family the burden.
Those connected to the case still don’t know who John Doe is and still don’t know where Thomas got the original paintings to create the forgeries.
The jury awarded Chears statutory damages of $150,00 for each original work infringed.
“Nancy was delighted that the jury took this case very seriously,” said Merrill.
Thomas has thirty days to appeal.