Published: January 16, 2001
Laffal Collection of ‘Outsider’ Art Auctioned by Slotin
BUFORD, GEORGIA – During the early 1970s, when there were few galleries and collectors and even fewer exhibitions of contemporary folk art, also known as “self-taught” and “Outsider” art, Flo and Jules Laffal found the carvings of John Vivolo at a New Haven antiques show and their lifetime love affair with American folk art began.
They discovered that part of the joy of collecting this art has been searching for and getting to know the artists. The couple wrote and published the first issue of The Folk Art Finder in March, 1980. Their last issue was released October-December 2000. But the impact the Laffals have had on the field reverberates through their tireless travel, research, documentation, interviews, photographs, collecting and writing. The Laffals, along with a handful of early self-taught art pioneers, have paved the way for galleries and museum exhibitions to exhibit these works regularly.
The Laffals’ collection had remained intact for almost 30 years. Some pieces were featured in the Lyman Allyn Art Museum in 1997 and more recently in Angels of the scattered Clouds: Contemporary Folk Art from the Collection of Flo and Jules Laffal at the William Benton Museum of Art, University of Connecticut.
In a recent two-day auction at Slotin’s a lively crowd numbering more than 200 came to acquire a piece of the nearly 800-lot collection. Seven operators settled in to handle phone bidders. And more than 250 people from all over the country left absentee bids.
Auctioning opened with a selection of canes. By lot 19, a William Dawson eight-head totem cane had all seven phone lines hopping but ultimately caught the attention of an audience member, selling for $700. Several other Denzil Goodpaster canes sold next in the $350/500 range. The momentum continued from there are the bidders fought for a selection of 12 quilts and hooked rugs ranging in price from $300/750.
Next pottery buyers proved how serious they were for 60 pieces of Southern Folk Pottery. Of special note was lot 74, a small signed Cheever Meaders jug (six inches high), which sold in house for $1,800, while a decorated white grape bean pot, by Lanier Meaders captured $1,900. And another highlighted piece, lot 95, a large Lanier Meaders’ Devil Face jug, sold to an absentee buyer from Maryland for $2,300.
General Walter S. Mullins was represented by five paintings selling for $275/350 each. Mullins, a former WWI and WWII General, died at the age of 80 in 1979. He had built and cloistered himself into a fortress-like castle of stone filled with his paintings and statues.
Other relatively obscure paintings also attracted a lot of attention and price tags to match. Lot 110, an Animal Podium Table painting by Chesapeake artist, Geneva Beavers, exceeded pre-sale estimates of $300/500 when it sold for $1,000. A rare painting by Texas artist Velox Ward also soared past its estimate of $600/1,000 when it sold to a buyer over the phone for $1,400 and returned to the artist’s home state. Three paintings by deceased Tennessee artist, Henry Marsh, caused quite a stir, selling for $1,100, $950 and $1,600 (est $600/1,000 each).
Another Laffal discovery, Ed Beichier, was represented by a grouping of nine individually carved and painted figures (six to nine feet high each), entitled “The Library.” This set went to a prominent South Carolina dealer for $550. Lot 412, “A Train Cranked Out at Full Speed,” created by quadriplegic artist and newcomer Kirby Petikas, sold to a California dealer for $400. One of the most unique rdf_Descriptions at the auction was a Mother’s Day sculpture dated 1942. It featured five “arms” attached to a decorated wooden-based coconut shell, all intricately painted on both sides with scenes depicting a bear, birds, a deer and flowers. A picture of the artist’s mother is recessed within the piece, which found a new home in California for $550.
A carved and painted plaque, “I Am The Resurrection and the Life,” by Josephus Farmer, sold to an ecstatic Pennsylvania phone bidder for $4,000. Four Clementine Hunter paintings were highlighted by lot 145, “Working on the Plantation,” which sold to a Washington, DC attorney and long-time collector for $4,700 on the phone. Buyers fought hard to obtain a piece by Sam Doyle, whose work has recently enjoyed a one-man exhibition at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. Lots 150 and 151, “Man Crabbing” and “Woman Washing Floors,” works on paper, sold over the phone for $4,200 and $3,600, and with this acquisition, joined an important collection of Doyle’s work.
The most highly anticipated rdf_Descriptions of the sale, and by far the most popular, were the works of Georgia artist Rev. Howard Finster. Collectors looking for older works from the original Paradise Garden, either early numbers or before Finster began numbering (1976) found them at this sale. The crowd warmed up with lot 155, “Abraham and Isaac,” 1976. It sold to a New York collector for $3,700. By lot 156, the bidding had escalated. “David and Goliath,” a piece featured on the front cover of the auction catalog, which sold to an Atlanta bidder with a large Finster collection, for $7,200 (est $3/5,000.
Lot 157, “Snake Around the World,” #2,157, sold over estimate to a buyer from Illinois for $7,000. “Elvis at Three,” a large painting on burlap and one of the first 1,600 pieces created by Finster, went again to New York for $4,200. Even Finster’s smaller pieces performed quite well. A “Trumpeting Angel” cutout sold in house for $1,200. Two older gourds sold to separate audience members for $800 and $850. The contents over the two early clock cases ended when bidders from Chicago and Atlanta paid $1,000 and $900 respectively, well over the $300/500 estimate.
The list of big name artists continued with work by artist Gustaf Klump. A phone bidder took home “Nudes in a Room” for $2,500. Other highlights included, by Victor Gatto, “Moose by the Stream” ($3,600); a large Mary T. Smith painting on a door (80 inches long) ($3,000); a painting by Jewish folk artist, Harry Lieberman ($3,100); a small wood cutout by African-American artist Steve Ashby, “Running Woman” ($3,000); and a large wood-relief carved plaque entitled “Jesus at the Well,” by Herbert Singleton ($2,600).
Eddie Arning’s “Couple Riding the Rapids” ($2,300), James Harold Jennings “Tough Girl Straddles James Harold Jennings and Beats the Hell Out of Him” ($1,400), Ned Cartledge’s “Get Wise and Eat an Apple” ($1,300), Jack Savitsky’s “Running Adam and Eve” ($2,800), Thornton Dial’s “Movie Star” ($1,600) and Eugenio Lopez’s wooden carved “Expulsion From the Garden” ($1,300) were also offered. One of the most celebrated pieces in the auction, a huge whirligig by John Vivolo (the artist that first inspired the Laffals’ love of American folk art) found a new home in Texas for $3,300 (and some creative shipping ideas).
Works by Elijah Pierce, Nellie Mae Rowe, Chief Wiley, Sister Gertrude Morgan, Eugene Von Bruenchenhein, Ron Rodriquez, William Dawson, J.B. Murry, Myrtice West, Jimmy Lee Sudduth, Eddie Mumma, Garland Adkins, Popeye Reed, Lorenzo Scott, Uncle Pete Drgac, Ezekial Gibbs, Charles Owens, and Carl McKenzie, Pucho Odio, Lee Godie, Jake McCord, Richard Burnside, Bernice Sims, O.L. Samuels, Henry Speller, Mose Tolliver, Prophet Royal Robertson, Jay Adams, also made appearances. Each came near or exceeded the $1,000 mark.
A life-sized (68 inches high) painted, welded metal interpretation of Marilyn Monroe in her famous pose, complete with her dress flying high over the windy gate, went to an Atlanta collector for $300 (est $500/1,000).
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