Published: June 22, 2021
Review by Greg Smith, Photos Courtesy Ledbetter Folk Art & Americana Auction
GIBSONVILLE, N.C. – Down in back country North Carolina, Matt Ledbetter and his Gibsonville Mafia mounted another two-day sale June 11-12, moving more than 1,100 lots of Americana with an emphasis on outsider, folk and self-taught art. The sale grossed about $345,000 with 28 consignors.
“Rewind back to June 13, 2020,” Ledbetter began our phone interview, referencing his first sale one year ago. “If I had it my way, I would have had 5,000 pieces of folk art in the back warehouse and I would have pulled 600 pieces out for a nothing-but-outsider art, self-taught art auction. My first sale was material I had collected, some of it was folk art, some of it was general. My second sale in December, I had about 20 percent outsider and self-taught art. My third sale in March of this year, I’d say it was 50 percent outsider, self-taught art. Now for my June 12 sale, so we’re one year from where we started to the present, I have 5,000 pieces of outsider art in my storage and I could dedicate an entire day to the outsider art, self-taught art auction.”
Indeed the sale was split between two days, a new format for Ledbetter, who sold North Carolina and general Americana material on day one and outsider and self-taught art day two.
“We finally arrived,” the auctioneer said. “I’m finally having a dedicated folk art, outsider art, self-taught art auction.”
It’s here where Ledbetter’s heart lies. His quarterly sales will revolve around this material going forward, with, he approximates, an added day inserted for general consignments.
“It took me a year to get names like Thornton Dial, Bessie Harvey, Charlie Lucas, Lonnie Holley, Purvis Young. I had zero Purvis Youngs in my first auction and the second one, I had to buy them to get them in. We had 42 Purvis Youngs consigned to us for this sale.”
The auction was led at $20,060 by a 12-tin pie cupboard/safe from Guilford County, N.C., the same county the auction house calls home. Ledbetter said a picker pulled it out of a basement three weeks before the sale and brought it to him. The top section held all of the punched tins with repeating diamond patterns, four vertical columns of three tins to each of the front doors and the sides. The bottom section featured two additional doors opening to a shelved interior.
“It don’t get any better than that, the tins were incredible,” Ledbetter said, noting that it stayed with a North Carolina buyer.
Other Southern furniture included a $5,535 result for a Tennessee painted hanging corner cupboard with tulip, eagle, stars and snake decoration. Ledbetter said the piece had been in the collection of Martinsville, Va., folk art collector Dr Mervyn King, who had bought it out of a Tennessee home. A bidder drove nine hours to see it in person, went back home, and bought it online. At $5,015 was a Kentucky cherry sugar chest, circa 1840, with breadboard ends. Out of the Shenandoah Valley came a painted stepback cupboard, circa 1870, with attractive wear through the dark, brown paint to the bare wood. It sold for $4,720.
Other works from North Carolina included a James Franklin Seagle half-gallon jug, 9 inches high, that brought $1,599. The Seagle family of potters began with Adam Seagle and continued to James’ father, Daniel, before being passed to him. Oscar Louis Bachelder had two pots in the sale, both vases, each measuring no more than 5 inches high. They sold for $800 and $677. Bachelder founded the Omar Khayyam Pottery at the foot of Mount Pisgah, west of Asheville. Like Seagle, he pursued a tradition that started with his grandfather, Luther Cleveland Bachelder in New Hampshire and continued with his father, Calvin Bachelder in Wisconsin. Early Bachelder collector, Pat J. Johnson, who helped coordinate the potter’s first solo exhibition at the Mint Museum in 1983, noted that the Bachelders spanned the American pottery traditions of earthenware, stoneware and art-craft pottery.
With a fabulous form and deep blue original paint was a circa 1890-1910 Mecklenburg County, N.C., yellow pine jelly cabinet featuring an elaborate crest. It sold for $738.
When the second day of sale began, Ledbetter’s attention turned to his outsider and self-taught artists.
Capturing $5,166 was a small work on paper, 11 by 8 inches, by Thornton Dial.
“It was a true honor to have that piece in my auction house,” Ledbetter said, noting that he has more Dials consigned for his September and December sales. The present work had provenance to Bill Arnett, who sold it to dealer Ron Causey Jr in 2013.
Surpassing that sum was Frog Smith, whose market is white hot right now. A 19-by-27½-inch framed painting on artist board featuring what seems to be a cotton mill operation brought $6,608.
From two collections came 42 works by Purvis Young, which sold anywhere from $492 to $3,690, the higher made for a city scene, 35 by 35½ inches from the 1990s. Many of the works were from that decade. “I created new Purvis Young collectors with this auction,” Ledbetter said, noting a handful of collectors who said this was their first piece from the prolific Florida artist.
Ledbetter broke the auction record for South Carolina artist Richard Burnside twice in this sale. The artist passed away in 2020 at the age of 77. His new record now stands at $3,075 for a 53-by-44-inch painting featuring a king and queen, bugs, Jesus, snakes and more.
An auction record was also set for ceramicist Peter Lenzo with a $3,075 result for an 11½-inch double-handled face jug dated 2000. Eyeball jugs from Marvin Bailey proved popular, including an artist record at $1,107 for a 5-gallon, 18-inch-tall example. Ledbetter continues to offer works from this South Carolina potter, pushing his records higher each time. The auctioneer had never seen another toothless Lanier Meaders face jug before he sold one for $2,091. “Everybody wants rock and China teeth,” Ledbetter said. “The no teeth, people say whatever, they’re not as collectible. But I have never seen one with no teeth. It was rare.”
“My June 12 auction was to make a statement,” Ledbetter said. “It was to say that we have the material, we’re here to say.”
Ledbetter’s next sale is July 10, featuring a number of works by North Carolina artists Benny Carter, Auburn Lane, Charles Moore and others. Among the Benny Carter works is an early, detailed example painted in his nascent style, which Ledbetter says dates to around the same production period as his Calendar Pieces.
All prices reported include buyer’s premium. For more information, www.ledbetterauctions.com or 336-524-1077.
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