Published: August 15, 2023
Review by W.A. Demers; Photos Courtesy Slotin Folk Art
BUFORD, GA. — August 5 was Day 1 of a two-day sale conducted by Slotin Folk Art and featured 463 lots of self-taught art and fun contemporary folk art. The top lot of the sale, which totaled $513,225, was an oil on canvas by Rev. Johnnie Swearingen, selling for $8,750, more than twice its high estimate. Titled “Blue Church,” the initialed painting measured 49 by 37 inches. It is heading back to Texas, according to Steve Slotin, the firm’s co-owner. Swearingen is regarded as one of the most important of Texas folk painters. From the Chappell, Texas, area, his colorful life included field work, a stint as a hobo traveling across the western United States to the coast of California where he picked grapes and worked as a dock worker. One of his earliest mediums was shoe polish on cardboard.
Slotin’s August 6 session featured 457 lots, continuing the offering of fun and antique folk art, Americana and an international folk art selection.
A folky, bird’s-eye view of “Camp Mohawk” by Janet Price with cabins, trees, pathways and campers engaged in various activities came to the podium with a $300/500 estimate, but did much better, finishing at $7,500. The 1982 oil on canvas was signed, dated and titled, 24 by 32 inches.
Two notable paintings by Mattie Lou O’Kelley (1908-1997) were featured. “Daming Up the Branch,” 1973, acrylic on paper lush scene of a bucolic farm with stream and children doing their fun engineering, was signed, dated and titled, 30½ by 24½ inches, and made $6,875. It was a Ladies’ Home Journal contest finalist in 1973-74.
O’Kelley’s trippy “Night Harbor” with colorful lighted vessels against an equally colorful nighttime cityscape took $6,250. The 1977 oil on canvas was signed, dated and titled, 40 by 28 inches, and had provenance to the Jay Johnson American Folk Heritage Gallery.
Born on a corn and cotton farm in Maysville, Ga., in the northeast of the state, O’Kelley was the seventh of eight children. She retired from local stints as a cook, waitress and seamstress in 1968, a latecomer at age 60 to the field of art. Her images of the Georgia countryside, including farm scenes that hearkened back to her childhood, earned her the sobriquet “a true American primitive.”
American self-taught painter Joseph Elmer Yoakum (1891-1972) was represented by several works in the sale, led by brick-toned “Holly Hills of Jerusalem Judea Now Palestine,” 1963. Fetching $5,750, the pastel, color pencil and ink on paper with varnish was signed, dated, titled and presented in an archival frame of 24 by 18 inches.
The prolific Rev. Howard Finster (1916-2001), a Baptist minister from Georgia who claimed to be inspired by God to spread the gospel through his Outsider art, was the visionary force behind Paradise Garden, the folk art sculpture garden with more than 46,000 pieces of art. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Paradise Garden is in the small, rural town of Summerville, Ga., located in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. The nonprofit regional rural art center is one of the major economic drivers for the impoverished and economically depressed Appalachian region of Georgia. There’s an art museum, a visitors center, year-round tours, children art camps and workshops, adult art classes, art exhibitions, music performances and more. As a nonprofit, it is operated by a working board of directors, Paradise Garden Foundation, and receives no county funding. This online auction benefited Paradise Garden Foundation for the operation and restoration of Finster’s historic art environment. One of Finster’s works was among the top highlights of the sale. A colorful cityscape, “City of Lemcosmer,” 1991, signed, dated, titled and numbered, was done in paint and marker on board. At 30 by 24 inches, it sold for $5,375.
Day 2 highlights included a whimsical group portrait of “Three Cats” by Ted Gordon, which pounced on $3,250, and Eddy Mumma’s (1908-1986) “Portrait with Red Face,” a signed oil on canvas panel by the Ohio artist. It finished at $2,375, with proceeds to benefit the Paradise Garden Foundation.
Prices given include the buyer’s premium as stated by the auction house. For information, www.slotinfolkart.com or 770-532-1115.
September 19, 2023
September 19, 2023
September 19, 2023
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