Back in March, we did a cover story on H Gallery, a West 19th Street art gallery. About a dozen artists claimed to have been bilked out of their commissions over the past several years there.
Since then, we've heard that some of the pissed-off artists were attempting to punish H Gallery principals Sandy Bernstein and her daughter Heidi Powell-Prera in both criminal and civil court. After our article was published, a local attorney even stepped up to say he would handle the cases of the artists for free.
And still nothing has been filed, despite the best efforts of Jim Adams and Claire Richards, two of the artists we prominently featured in the article. Adams has said he's met with apathy from his many artists. For most, the dollar amounts were small, certainly smaller than Adams and Richards were on the hook for, and the hassles weren't worth it.
But while we did speak to about ten artists who claimed to have been ripped off, we didn't get to all of them. One we missed was Larry Crawford, and what a tale he has to tell.
He says that he sold a number of pieces there, was owed about $2,000 and got the same runaround everyone else got: He should wait, he would get paid when some checks cleared and, most often, sob stories about how Paul Bernstein, Sandy's husband and Powell-Prera's stepfather, was ailing from the aftereffects of a stroke. (Bernstein has passed away since our article was published.)
Eventually, Crawford heard enough and started removing his art from the gallery. He says Powell-Prera and Sandy told him he wasn't allowed to do that, but he did so anyway. He reiterated that he wanted to be paid, and got more sob stories.
And this is where it gets interesting...
"Finally after calling them everyday, going by to see about getting my money , I got a phone call from Heidi's father [Paul Bernstein] telling me if I didn't leave his wife and daughter alone and quit hounding them about money that he was going to have me beaten up, that I should watch out when I go out alone, and a number of other things," he tells Hair Balls via e-mail, and later confirmed on the phone.
Crawford says he taped the call and turned the recording over to the police and the phone company, and was told he should press charges.
At the time, though, Crawford was more interested in getting paid. He says he played the tape for Sandy and Powell-Prera, and told them that he would press charges unless he got his money.
The women agreed to meet him for lunch, and insisted that he pay. At first, having to buy them lunch seemed worth it, because for dessert, he was at last given the check he'd been asking for.
He took it straight to the bank, where it bounced like a ball of Silly Putty in a rubber room.
So he was back at square one. He says Powell-Prera gave him still more sob stories.
"I told them I really didn't care about their problems, but if I didn't get my money that I would be happy to see that her father went to jail," he writes.
Powell-Prera agreed to meet him at the bank, and when she tried to give him a check, Crawford said that would not suffice this time around. He told her to go in the bank with him and physically withdraw what she owed him, plus the $35 bounced-check charge, right in front of him.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the mission of the Houston Press. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Houston’s stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
And he finally got some of the money he was supposed to have gotten. He says they owed him $2,000 but in the end was paid only $500.
Crawford says he tried to tell other artists about H Gallery, but his warnings fell on deaf ears.
"[Powell-Prera] was so good at playing on people's emotions," he says. "She told them I was just out to hurt the gallery because I never sold anything."
Hair Balls left a detailed message with H Gallery, and if they call back with more information, we'll update as needed.