Published: December 8, 2020
Review by Greg Smith, Photos Courtesy Material Culture
PHILADELPHIA- Four hundred eighty-seven lots of fine, folk and outsider art headlined Material Culture’s November 23 sale, led by a landscape of bluebonnets by Texas self-taught artist William Slaughter. The sale grossed $332,000 with works gathered from 52 consignors.
Among the sale’s notable consignments were works from the collection of Norman Girardot and Diane LaBelle. “Norman Girardot had a personal relationship and wrote the groundbreaking book on Finster: Envisioning Howard Finster, The Religion and Art of a Stranger from Another World,” said auctioneer George Jevremovic.
All but one of the 28 works in the sale by Finster (American, 1916-2001), the Georgia visionary artist, were from the Girardot and LaBelle collection. In an essay released by the auction house, Girardot wrote that his “world and…academic career as a comparative religion scholar focused on ancient Chinese Daoist mysticism were forever changed” after meeting Finster in 1985.
Notable sales in the collection included a $7,995 result for Finster’s “Elements Melt/Hell in the Heavens,” a 14-by-12¼-inch oil on panel numbered “4000.730 works since 1976.” The image, a rather sinister one, depicts lines of souls corralled by four figures of Satan, the words “Saten shall be loosed from his chains for a short period on earth” written near center. Also from the artist was a wood cutout self-portrait completed in 1987 depicting the artist as he appeared as a spry 28-year-old. “Howard in 1944,” measuring 21½ by 13½ inches, was used as the cover art of 2015 issue of Raw Vision and it sold for $4,480. A 49½-inch-long “Trumpeting Angel” from the artist brought $4,160, while a dinosaur cutout, 18 inches long, sold for $1,280. Finster’s pocket sermon on the base of the dinosaur expounded on his evolution denialism, writing “mankind did not come from monkeys or animals. Man is human, not animal.” Some scarce Finster forms were found in the collection, including a paint and marker on ceramic jug, 6 inches high, which brought $608. Two additional works were paint on glass, including images of visages painted on an Atlas E-Z seal glass canning jar from 1992, $480; and a glass bowl with images of faces of women around it, $384.
Also included from Girardot and Labelle was a large collection of works from Chicago outsider Mr Imagination (1948-2012). Girardot created a course at Lehigh University titled, “Raw Vision: Creativity and Ecstasy in the Work of Shamans, Mystics, and Outsider Artists,” to which he invited Mr Imagination in as the first artist in residence, which led to an exhibition of Mr Imagination, Charlie Lucas, Lonnie Holley and Norbert Kox. At the time, Diane LaBelle was leading Bethlehem, Penn.’s community arts center, the Banana Factory, and also began to show Mr Imagination’s work as well as other outsiders. The collaboration and vision between Girardot and LaBelle transcended the art world in 2002 when Mr Imagination served as the best man in their wedding, wearing a bottle cap bow tie and cummerbund. Among Mr Imagination’s works in the sale was a self-portrait sculpture, 20 inches high, featuring the artist holding a scepter and built up on a bowling pin covered with bottle caps and paint. It sold for $3,456. Another figure, this one depicting a Black man holding a sign that reads “Moving Sale,” sold for $960. Taking $544 was a bottle cap cane from the artist.
The sale’s top earner was a rural scene featuring Texas bluebonnets flowing through a field that overlooks a long valley ahead by self-taught artist William Slaughter (1923-2003), titled “Splendid Seclusion.” It sold for $12,915. It had provenance to Simic Galleries in La Jolla, Calif., where it was purchased in 1989. The 30-by-40 oil on canvas painting depicts one of Slaughter’s most popular subjects, the colorful Texas wildflowers that earned him his reputation.
“Haitian art is an area that we have excelled at ever since we sold the Jonathan Demme collection of Haitian and self-taught art in two single owner dedicated auctions in 2014 and 2016,” Jevremovic noted, pointing to the robust selection of Haitian art, which comprised 97 lots in the sale. They were led by a $5,120 result for a 1993 oil on board painting by Bernard Sejourne (Haitian, 1947-1994). Sejourne’s flowing style can at times feel surrealistic, though his subjects tie him to the Haitiain tradition in portraiture. Taking $3,712 was “The Tree Races,” a 1985 oil on board, 48 by 40 inches, depicting an image of three women from shoulders up with long necks and fruit bowls balanced upon their heads. Works from Jasmin Joseph (Haitian, 1923-2005) also found interest, with a green landscape rising into the form of a man riding what seems to be a camel, that sold for $4,920. Jasmin is considered a master and was included in the first major exhibit of Haitian art in the United States at the Brooklyn Museum in 1978.
Taking $6,125 was a 19¼-by-48-inch work from Mississippi artist Mary Tillman Smith (1905-1995), which came from a Delaware collection and was acquired directly from the artist in the 1980s. Material Culture holds the auction record for the artist, which they set in June of 2019 at $25,000.
“We received a large consignment of Martino family paintings from family member and artist, Nina Martino, which we have been selling over the past year, and which we will continue to offer,” Jevremovic said. “Net Proceeds from the sale of the items from the Martino collection are donated to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts Student Scholarship Program.”
The Martinos were represented by father Giovanni Martino (American, 1908-1997), mother Eva Martino (American, b 1929), and daughter Babette Martino (American, b 1956). The latter rose the highest in “Two Bridges Over The Schuykill,” an oil on board measuring 18 by 34 inches that sold for $3,584. Both mother and father settled in with $1,280 results for her “White Porcelain” still life and his “Cat Boat” shipyard scene.
The auction house had by-appointment preview for two days prior to the sale and bidding was online, telephone and by absentee.
All prices include buyer’s premium. For more information, www.materialculture.com or 215-849-8030.
November 22, 2022
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