Published: January 18, 2022
Review by Greg Smith, Photos Courtesy Public Sale
HUDSON, N.Y.- The “Life In America” auction at Public Sale on January 8 comprised, in the firm’s words, “Americana and three-dimensional representations that commemorate life and work in America.” Much of what was sold mirrored the things you may see on a trip across the country: petroliana, store displays, barber shop signs, folk art, and when you finally got to Yellowstone, bison.
The modest sale was led at $3,200 by a two-piece store display stepback cupboard painted white with a three-glass-door top. It looked as if it was plucked from a country story in Iowa. Behind at $2,280 was the ying to its yang, a similar appearing china cabinet painted black, also with a three-glass-door top. Folks buying at this auction house are looking hard for storage – a primitive wood kitchen console table with drawers went out at $1,920.
There were plenty of selections in petroliana and advertising trade signs. The group was led by a Golden Shell Motor Oil sign, 35 inches high, that sold for $2,280. It came from the collection of contemporary Kentucky photographer Shelby Lee Adams, who found it at an abandoned gas station on Cumberland Mountain, Harlan County, Ky., in the 1980s. Also from that collection was a Red Stull Seeds embossed metal sign, 20 inches across, that went out at $270. Adams, who won a 2010 Guggenheim fellowship, is primarily known for his striking portraits of modern Appalachians.
Other signs in the sale included a 6-foot Gulf porcelain service station sign that brought $2,160. Found in a local Hudson Valley estate was a Finn Bros Barber Shop sign with nice yellow and red-outlined letters on a black ground, all painted on tin. It sold for $1,440. Of some mystery was a sign that read “Idlewood.” There was speculation that it could possibly be associated with Idlewild Amusement Park in Ligonier, Penn., the third-longest running amusement park in America, or it could have been from the once-famed Michigan resort town, which was known as the “Black Eden of Michigan.” In the first half of the Twentieth Century, the town regularly fielded Black vacationers who sought respite from widespread racism elsewhere. The sign brought $1,080.
Six works by Hudson, N.Y., outsider artist Earl Swanigan were offered in the sale, led by an $1,800 result for a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II. On board, the painting measured 38 by 35 inches. Behind at $1,020 was a 6-foot-wide painting of a cat’s face on corrugated metal. Since his death in 2019, Swanigan has earned some credibility that he may not have received in life, though that is not to say he wasn’t well-known in Hudson – indeed he was small-town famous. He took the term “outsider” literally, painting outside in the morning and hawking his art along the streets in the afternoon. The arts community there supported him, mounting his shows and celebrating his ambition.
Rising to 7 feet tall was a standing brown bear taxidermy mount, its hands outstretched as if taking a swipe, and its mouth open showing teeth. The bear ran up to $1,800. Selling for $1,200 was the symbol of America – early America, at least – in an American bison from the neck up.
The auction house’s next sale is on February 5. All prices reported include the buyer’s premium. For more information, www.public-sale.com or 518-966-7253.
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