Published: October 10, 2006
“I thought I owned the best weathervane until one this came along,” folk art collector Jerry Lauren said at Sotheby’s on October 6, moments after acquiring a J.L. Mott Indian Chief weathervane for $5.84 million ($100/150,000) including premium.
Seated with his wife Susan and son Greg, the Polo Ralph Lauren executive, who entered the bidding at the $4 million mark, outlasted seven competitors to win the molded copper sculpture. The graceful 62-inch figure now holds the auction record for American folk art.
“This is one of the top five pieces in the universe of American folk art. It represents the best of the Nineteenth Century mentality about the nobility of the Native American. As sculpture, the figure has perfect expression, proportion and patina,” said New York dealer Sy Rappaport, an advisor to the Laurens.
The sale represented the latest spike in the bull market for weathervanes, which have jumped to new levels three times this year. In January, Christie’s knocked down a Goddess of Liberty weathervane attributed to William Henis of Philadelphia to Boston dealer Stephen Score for $1,080,000. In August, Northeast Auctions sold a circa 1882 steam locomotive vane to Pennsylvania dealer Todd Prickett for $1,216,000. The run-up in prices began in 1990, when Score paid $770,000 for a circa 1860 horse and rider by J. Howard & Co.
Dating to about 1900, the Indian Chief weathervane was probably a special commission for a fraternal lodge or community institution, said Nancy Druckman.
“It’s a masterpiece in every respect; remarkable for its size, condition and artistry,” noted the head of Sotheby’s American folk art department, describing the auction as one of the most exciting events of her 30-plus-year career at the New York-based auction house.
The sculpture’s beautiful patina — verdigris with traces of russet paint and glints of original gilding — was burnished by continual exposure to the elements. For years, the figure flew atop the Grosse Pointe, Mich., home of Josephine and Walter Buhl Ford II. Mrs Ford, who died last year, was a granddaughter of industrialist Henry Ford.
Three other Indian vanes from the Ford Collection also soared. A 47-inch-tall molded copper vane, also probably by Mott, with old chrome restorations went to C.L. Prickett Antiques for $716,000 ($80/120,000). A 38 ½-inch Indian weathervane, maker unknown, holding a zinc bow and arrow and wearing two sheet-copper feathers as a headdress, fetched $192,000 ($20/30,000). It sold to a dealer bidding by phone. A fourth Indian weathervane, estimated at only $8/12,000, made $72,000.
In all, the 454-lot Ford sale grossed $9,399,826. Other highlights included a Northwest Coast carved and painted face mask, $108,000 ($30/40,000); the paintings “Tasmanian Tiger” and “Frankenstein,” each $78,000, by Twentieth Century self-taught artist William Hawkins; a Philadelphia or Baltimore Chippendale carved walnut dressing table, $84,000; and a New Lebanon Shaker side chair with a paper label inscribed “George O. Donnel,” $72,000, sold to Connecticut dealer David Schorsch.
A Connecticut Queen Anne cherry dressing table with a distinctive molded and scalloped top and scalloped skirt was reacquired for $90,000 ($30/60,000) by Nathan Liverant and Son, who first purchased it in 1969 and sold it to Israel Sack Inc, who sold it to the Fords.
The following day, Sotheby’s various owners sale of Important Americana realized $5,843,040. Heading the auction was a Philadelphia Queen Anne open armchair that sold to Pennsylvania dealers C.L. Prickett Antiques for $2,256,000 ($500,000/$1 million).
“It’s a great chair, fifth out of a set of eight,” said Todd Prickett. Two chairs from the set are at Winterthur, one is at Philadelphia Museum of Art, and one is in a private collection. Prickett said another chair, similar but with different feet, that was once with David Stockwell may have once been part of the set.
The Pricketts also bought a choice Aaron Willard shelf clock, ex collection of the Rhode Island Historical Society, for $102,000 ($40/60,000). “It’s a phenomenal clock in superb condition,” said Prickett.
A meticulously rendered painting of Harrisonburg, Va., by Emma Lyon Bryon crossed the block at $168,000, selling to David Schorsch.
In a trifecta, Sotheby’s auctioned the Dundas Collection of Northwest Coast Indian Art, a category increasingly of interest to American folk art enthusiasts, on October 5, realizing a record $7,030,600. The top lot, a Tsimshian portrait mask, went to dealer Donald Ellis for $1,808,000, an individual record for an American Indian art object at auction. The collection descended for more than a century in the family of Reverend Robert J. Dundas. Ellis, whose business is based in Dundas, Canada, bought eight of the top ten lots.
“We are thrilled to have been a participant in the repatriation of a major portion of the Dundas Collection to Canada. Discussions are already underway this morning regarding a public display of this extraordinary group of historical Northwest Coast native art,” Ellis said afterward.
A complete report will appear in a future issue. Prices include buyer’s premium. For information, 212-606-7000 or www.sotheby’s.com.
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