Published: February 21, 2023
Review by Madelia Hickman Ring, Photos Courtesy Miller & Miller
NEW HAMBURG, ONTARIO, CANADA – Led by seven works by Canadian folk art darling Maud Lewis (1901-1970), Miller & Miller’s 291-lot February 11 Canadiana & Folk Art sale was 100 percent sold by lot and saw a total of $368,261. The auction featured the collections of Lawrence and Linda Laing, Jim Fleming, Marty Ostler and Susan Murray, as well as unidentified sellers.
“Prior to these folk art sales, there hasn’t really ever been a folk-art-centric auction in Canada. It’s unusual to bring all of these artists under one roof. Some of the artists that didn’t necessarily have any strong auction records did exceptionally well. They represent ‘art from the heart,'” said Ethan Miller, reached by phone after the sale. He thought some of the interest in the works of artists such as Joe Norris, Joseph Sleep and Stephen Outhouse, all contemporaries of Lewis, might have increased from being sold alongside her works.
The seven works by Lewis placed in the top eight results overall, all but one selling within or above presale expectations. Interestingly, Miller said Canadian buyers were successful for all except the two highest selling works – her “The Three Black Cats” and “Spring Scene” – which sold to the same buyer in the United States, for $31,650 and $26,511, respectively. Both are what he called “serial images,” subjects Lewis painted many times, each one slightly different from the next. “The Three Black Cats” had been acquired directly from Lewis, while “Spring Scene” had been purchased from Shadfly Antiques and Ingram Gallery and was accompanied by letters of authentication.
“The fact that she’s getting attention outside of Canada is very exciting,” Miller said.
The four other oils – most on beaverboard – brought prices ranging from $17,674, for “Oxen in Winter,” to $19,441, for both “Sandy Cove Harbour” and “Covered Bridge,” while the only watercolor work on paper, a harbor scene on one side of a handwritten letter, closed out at $14,139.
Miller thought the $16,790 paid by a Canadian buyer for Joe Norris’ (Canadian, 1925-1996) “The Lighthouse and Three Schooners” was a record for the artist. Painted circa 1980 in oil on canvas measuring 49 by 69 inches in the frame, it was cataloged as “exceptionally large” and exemplified his oeuvre: life along the seacoast, landscapes and scenes of wildlife and nature painted in bold, saturated colors. From the Linda and Lawrence Laing Collection, the painting had been purchased directly from the artist.
Decorative arts were also a strong category in the sale, led at $9,721 for a circa 1870 4-gallon stoneware crock by Picton, Ontario, potter G.I. Lazier (w 1864-1879), which depicted a horse in cobalt decoration. Miller observed that very few examples of decorated stoneware featuring animals such as horses and cattle are known to exist. It is also staying in Canada.
Among furniture, a circa 1830 two-piece corner cupboard from Waterloo County, Ontario, was described as “exceptional” and featured – in addition to characteristic regional features – raised panels and an original combed red and amber painted surface. Not only had the cupboard been exhibited in the 1974 Country Heritage Loan Exhibition at Montgomery Mills, Toronto, and had provenance to Alan Clairman but it had been published in Henry and Barbara Dobson’s The Early Furniture of Ontario & the Atlantic Provinces: A Record of the Pieces Assembled for the Country Heritage Loan Exhibition from Private Collections Across Canada (1974), as well as on the cover of the Spring 1990 edition of Georgian Antique Digest. A Canadian buyer paid $9,721 for it, nearly double its low estimate.
“We knew it was special but we didn’t know where the bidding would stop,” Miller said when asked about a Lunenburg County, Nova Scotia, carved spruce gum box, which interest pushed to more than ten times its high estimate before a Canadian buyer won it for $7,953. From the Jim Fleming collection and illustrated in Canadian Folk Art to 1950 by John A. Fleming and Michael J. Rowan (2012), the book-form slide-lid box had chip carving and mahogany and bone inlay in the form of tools and other symbols.
A dated 1850 powder horn with a replaced cord that had descended in the family of Elmo Jenkins of Durrell, Newfoundland, was extensively scratch-carved with a sailing ship, flying and exotic fish, fowl, horse, ship’s anchor, First Nations hunter with long gun, mermaid, dragon or alligator, serpent, squid, swordfish, flower and geometrics. It will be staying in Canada with a buyer who paid $3,756 for it.
Miller & Miller has a strong record with advertising collectibles and there were half a dozen antique and vintage examples in the sale, led at $3,535 for a double-sided shoe-form sign made for Ailsa Craig, Ontario, undertaker and furniture, boot and shoe dealer, Thomas Stevenson. Formerly from the Bisback collection, the sign was accompanied by a framed ensemble of two original trade cards and a hand-drawn sign from the merchant.
Prices quoted include the buyer’s premium as reported by the auction house and have been converted into US dollars based on the exchange rate on the day of the sale.
Miller & Miller’s next Canadiana and Folk Art sale is scheduled for March 25-26.
For additional information, www.millerandmillerauctions.com or 519-662-4800.
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