Published: January 15, 2002
BUFORD, GA. – On November 10, Slotin Folk Art Auction liquidated the prestigious collection of Herbert Waide Hemphill for the Smithsonian American Art Museum. This one-day sale, featuring 630 lots, proved to the world that self-taught art has earned its long-awaited acceptance in the mainstream art market as sales soared past the $500,000 mark.
Hemphill (1929-1998), an avid collector, even at a young age, was one of the founders of The American Folk Art Museum (New York) and later its first, and one of its most influential, curators. He auth-ored many major books and publications, including the essential handbook for self-taught art collectors: Twentieth Century American Folk Art and Artists. Between 1973 and 1988, segments of Hemphill’s adventuresome collection of some 3,000 objects were shown in 24 museums across the country.
Connoisseur Magazine named Hemphill, “Mr American Folk Art,” and the Folk Art Society of America honored him with their first annual Award of Distinction. Later, the Smithsonian Institution awarded him the James Smithson Society Founder Medal for his generous gifts to the nation. Hemphill always believed in shar-ing his knowledge and his collection with the public and in that spirit, he bequeathed the balance of his collection to The Smithsonian American Art Museum with instructions to use the proceeds from its sale to establish the Herbert Waide Hemphill, Jr, Folk Art Fund.
As per Hemphill’s request, this collection was to be liquidated in the Southeast, the region from which most of the art was purchased. Slotin, now in his tenth year of specializing in self-taught art, was chosen by The Smithsonian. All 630 pieces would sell as The Smithsonian had instructed Slotin to sell the Hemphill estate unreserved. Eleven phone operators prepared for a fast-paced day of live bidding and more than 400 people left absentee bids. A selection of 21 canes, included a folky Ralph Buckwalter “Topless Woman” cane, brought $750 and a Denzil Goodpaster “Gator and Spotted Lion Eating a Woman” cane, sold for $1,100.
Quilts and hooked rugs featured an early 1900s East Coast hooked rug, decorated with a fall farm scene complete with pumpkins, bunnies, cats, ducks and frogs, and a hooked rug featuring a small town snow scene, circa 1910, mint condition, that realized $1,100 and $600 respectively. The next 28 lots featured an interesting selection of old signs and a substantial selection of tramp art frames and boxes.
A strong contingency of Southern folk pottery collectors vied for a Lanier Meaders’ churn with grape decorations, circa 1970, selling for $2,800. A rare Lanier Meaders’ devil jug, circa 1970, sold for $3,600 and an Arie Meader’s Owl 8.5-inch high piece, signed “A.M.” brought $5,000. Bill Traylor’s “Woman with Umbrella,” circa 1939-42 sold for $12,000. William Edmonson’s “Dove,” a 1930s stone carving with incredible provenance, had all 11 phone lines lit up, five absentee bids between $10/20,000, and sold for $22,000. A Joseph Yoakum drawing of the “Syrian Desert” sold for $8,000. Rev Johnny Swearingen’s “Murray Funeral,” a very large example, brought $5,000.
The recent passing of Rev Howard Finster, the world’s most famous folk artist, influenced record-breaking prices for his pieces. “Vision of George Washington,” #2555, 48 by 41.5 inches hammered at $8,500. “The Rock That is Higher Than I” (circa 1976) sold for $6,100. Finster cutouts reflected the most staggering price increases of all. “Gabriel Angel with Tablet,” #6898, exceeded its presale estimate of $1/1,500, selling for $2,600. “Young Abraham Lincoln,” #4655, a life-size 77-inch high painted wood cutout reached $6,000, selling to a long-time friend of Finster’s from Florida ($½,000). Even the smaller cutouts put the crowd into a buying frenzy. A typical example of this was Howard Finster’s “Self-Portrait,” #5745, ($500/1,000) realizing $3,600.
Other sales included three Sam Doyle pieces, including “le Bit,” a work on tin ($6,000); five works by Clementine Hunter ranging in price from $1,400 to $3,500; Sister Gertrude Morgan’s “Death” ($2,600); Frank Jones’ “Hard House” ($3,100); and J.B. Murray’s “Colorful Blocks” ($3,900). Also, works by Jewish artist Harry Lieberman, “The Seder” and “Scenes from a Sweat Shop” ($3,000 and $2,800); “Snow Scene” by Mattie Lou O’Kelley ($2,600); a series of large oils by Jack Savitsky including “Red and Blue Train” ($6,000), “Running Adam and Eve” ($3,300), “Coal Miners” ($4,500) and “Peaceable Kingdom,” ($3,600).
Janet Munroe’s Plantation scene sold for $3,500; a rendering of “Harris, New York,” by Israel Litwak sold for $2,400; David Butler’s “Black Flag” metal screen exceeded its presale estimate of $500/1,000 bringing $3,300; Victor Joseph Gatto’s “Lions In the Jungle” sold for $3,200; Freddie Brice’s “Red Plane,” landed at $2,200; Alex Maldonado’s “International Film Fest” ($2,200); and “Woman in Blue” by Moe Soyer realized $3,000.
Hundreds of other pieces sold in the $½,500 range including works by Charles Hutson, Frog Smith, George Lopez, Aaron Birnbaum, Old Ironside Pry, Eddie Arning, Jessie Rhoads, Mary T. Smith, B.F. Perkins, Ned Cartledge, Justin McCarthy, Camille Blair, Charles Butler, Vernell Mitchell, Charles Howe, Lorenzo Scott, Popeye Reed, Sterling Strauser, Vestie Davis, Clarence Stringfield, Leroy Almon, Jimmy Lee Sudduth, Laverne Kelley, Hector Benevides, John Vivolo, Steve Klein, Jon Feling, Mose Tolliver, Elijah Pierce, Bessie Harvey, Alexander Bogardy, Raymond Materson, Robert Sholties, Malcah Zeldis, Herbert Singleton, Peter Minchell, J.F. Dixon and Haitian artist Bien Aime.
A substantial portion of the $500,000-plus gross will directly benefit the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
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