Published: November 29, 2022
Review by Marty Steiner, Photos Courtesy Slotin Folk Art
BUFORD, GA. – The auction hall at Slotin Folk Art had all 856 lots set up in lot number order for previewing just like all the onsite auctions of the past. But the November 12-13 sale was online, with phone and absentee, or “left” bids. The hall was visited by, “about three dozen people, some who flew in from other states” offered Amy Slotin. What was missing was the camaraderie that Slotin’s Fall Masterpiece Auctions had provided to the collecting community over the years.
Otherwise, the Slotin sales continue to be the “go to” for serious collectors of outsider, self-taught, folk art and folk pottery. This sale opened with 49 lots of pottery. Examples ranged from mid-Nineteenth Century to current working artists and potters. As usual, the earliest pieces were simple practical forms and the more contemporary included some items with purely decorative purposes.
Works by enslaved potter David Drake are not seen in every sale offering American pottery, but this auction included one of his storage jars inscribed with his typical slash marks and date: March 12, 1857. As anticipated, it topped the pottery offerings at $27,500, beating its high estimate.
With nine lots of face jugs by Lanier Meaders listed, an early example with no ears or teeth brought $8,125, also just above the estimate. Like the Dave jar, the Meaders’ jug came from the Mike Dale collection. It was followed by another early Lanier example, a devil jug with quartz rock teeth, at $5,875.
The pottery lots, along with a few contemporary quilts served as a “warm up” for the expected heavy hitter masterpieces. The sale moved to the headlined Bill Traylor’s “Black Dog,” which had been estimated to bring $50/75,000. It finally barked up a $47,500 win, somewhat short of expectations but still the third highest price lot in this sale.
A couple of seascapes followed. Angry seas washed over John Orne Johnson Frosts’ “Leaving the Grand Banks at Night” but found a safe harbor at $17,500 and a berth among the top dozen lots. Just a couple of lots later, Marian Spire Bush’s “Factories,” a black and white oil on canvas smoked its estimate and moved into the top ranks at $18,750.
The bids kept the masterpiece top lots moving with Joseph Yoakum’s mountain scene “Persian Plateau Valley Near Afghanistan” peaking at $29,375. Another Yoakum, “Mt. Fullampu Range Near La Paz Bolivia S.A.” wasn’t far behind at $14,375, which also towered above its estimate.
If the presale estimates were any indication, two Sam Doyle paint on found roofing tin lots were expected to follow the Traylor lot, but they proved to be a surprise. “Dr Buz Ha Lo” sported an applied conch shell as the telephone. After numerous online attempts, the call was finally completed at $66,250, well over the estimate and the top price in the sale. Simply marked “J.R.” and depicting a Black ball player in a baseball uniform inscribed “Doger [sic], Doyle’s Jackie Robinson tribute caught a high bid of $63,750 to end the Doyle inning.
There were more surprises, a hallmark of Slotin’s sales. In a strong folk art market, new bidders are constantly attracted, and current collectors seek new artists and formats. These dynamics lead to strong bidding and unexepected results. This sale’s biggest surprise was Beverly Buchanan’s wood and mixed media model “South Carolina House with Wood Chimney.” It reached lofty heights of $55,000, more than ten times its high estimate and the third highest price of the weekend. Buchanan was known for her sculptures of the “shack,” usually in bright colors, representing the simple dwellings of the rural African American poor.
The lone Edgar Tolson carved wood offering was a classic Adam and Eve figural group titled “The Temptation” that featured a serpent in the apple tree. It tempted the successful bidder up to $8,125, right in the grasp of its estimate.
Other wood carvers in this sale included Carl McKenzie, Manly Lundberg, Bessie Harvey, Ronald Cooper, Shane Campbell and, of course, Minnie Adkins’ various critter forms; stone carvers Raymond Coins and Tim Lewis were also represented.
Stone carvings offered included Raymond Coins’ version of Adam and Eve that reached $4,375, while Tim Lewis’ sculptural Lamb ran to $1,188.
As usual, prolific Howard Finster had more lots offered than any other artist in this sale. Topping his 21 lots was his “Vision of the Westside of Holly Hills” at $10,625.
Folk artists frequently utilized unusual materials at hand for their creations. Just as Sam Doyle used discarded tin roofing panels and Bill Traylor worked with found card stock, James Son Ford Tomas embellished his painted gumbo clay “Watermelon Slice” with real watermelon seeds. It was sweet enough to reach $4,000, doubling the high estimate of $2,000. Five of his six lots exceeded their estimates.
While Sam Doyle’s top selling works utilized roofing tin panels, others such as David Butler took it a step further, cutting the tin panels into a subject shape prior to painting. Five of Butler’s painted cutout tin lots were led by his “Bronco Busting Rider” that tossed its estimate to $7,500.
Popular and well-respected artists’ works were distributed across both days of this auction, but it was not over until the gavel fell on the last lot of the second day. Two of the top three prices were by Benny Carter, whose “Coming to America” sailed to $8,750. His “Peaceable Kingdom” earned $7,125.
O.L. Samuels’ carved and painted wood creations have been absent from recent sales but three examples stood tall in this sale with “Fantasy Horned Creature” scaring up $6,875, while “Horned Fantasy Military Man” and “Fantasy Flying Ape” at $1,875 and $1,500, respectively, all met or exceeded the $1/2,000 catalog estimates.
The lone weathervane in this sale, attributed to Boston’s Harris & Co, was a hammered hollow copper representation of “Black Hawk” a noted antebellum Morgan trotting horse. From the Mike Dale collection, it pranced off to a $5,125 finish, just a nose ahead of its estimate.
Amy Slotin summed up the sale this way, “The prices were solidly strong throughout this sale! The heavy hitters did quite well, especially Sam Doyle, Bill Traylor, Joseph Yoakum, Dave ‘the Slave,’ Nellie Mae Rowe and many others.” In addition, she went on to mention new record prices for at least eight artists, including O.L. Samuels, Helen LaFrance and Eddie Arning.
Asked about the bidding audience she responded about the significant impact of online bidding which was evidenced by more than 27,000 bidders buying 71 percent of the first day and 84 percent of the second day’s lots. These included international bidders from across the world. Amy reflected, “I’m always floored that buyers from other countries are collecting works by the American self-taught artists such as Sister Gertrude Morgan, Roy Ferdinand, Wesley Willis, Mary T. Smith, Raymond Coins, Mose Tolliver, Prophet Royal Robertson and Benton Wilkins and adding these to their collections!”
Prices quoted include the buyer’s premium as reported by the auction house.
Slotin’s Annual Southern Folk Pottery Extravaganza is scheduled for February 11-12; the traditional Spring Self-taught Art Masterpiece Sale will take place in April. For more information, www.slotinfolkart.com, firstname.lastname@example.org or 770-532-1215.
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