Published: March 9, 2021
Review by W.A. Demers, Photos Courtesy William A. Smith Inc.
PLAINFIELD, N.H. – William Smith’s annual midwinter auction on February 26 featured items from many important estates and collections. Included was the estate of the late Helene Wurlitzer, who was an avid collector of the American West, plus Americana from a prominent Walpole, N.H., family and Twentieth Century folk art from the Bruce Williams estate of New Jersey. Leading the sale was a scarce 1949 woodcut by Gustave Baumann (1881-1971), an American printmaker and painter and one of the leading figures of the color woodcut revival in America. Soaring to $24,600 against an $800-$1,200 estimate, the work titled “Superstition Mountain,” #4/125 and depicting the formation northwest of Florence, Ariz., was sold to a New England collector. It was titled, signed, numbered and dated “Superstition Mountain / Gustave Baumann / E 4 125 / 49” in pencil lower margin. Framed, it measured 13½ by 12¾ inches.
According to Bill Smith, the online auction posted a record registration of bidders, nearly 4,000 making it “well attended” despite the Covid-19 prevention restrictions that have affected the live auction world.
There were a number of bronze sculptures by Dave McGary (1958-2013) that were notable. The internationally known bronze artist had studios in Ruidoso and Scottsdale, Ariz., and is considered a master of realism, best-known for his larger-than-life portrayals of Native Americans in authentic indigenous clothing. The top selling bronze, “In Victory I Stand,” #7/60, featured a cold-painted bronze of a Native American warrior. Mounted on an engraved swiveling walnut base, the bronze was signed “Dave McGary 2001 7/60” and was 19½ inches tall excluding the base. It sold for $14,160, far above its $4,000 high estimate.
Another McGary bronze, titled “Retired with Honors,” depicted a Native American elder standing with weapons holstered and sheathed. Signed on bronze “Dave McGary 1990 8/30 House P” and mounted on swiveling walnut base, the 32-inch bronze similarly outperformed the $4,000 high expectation to command $11,800. Still another McGary bronze, 1986 “War Deeds,” #6/25, of a Native American warrior standing on custom walnut plinth, 33¾ inches high, went out at $10,030, while “Chief Washakie” in full dress and regalia was mounted on a custom swiveling inscribed walnut pedestal and signed on the bronze. At 19 inches high, including, the pedestal, the chief finished at $5,015, more than triple the high estimate.
Early portraits of George Washington always seem to do well at auction, and for this sale there was a Nineteenth Century American School oil on canvas, 29¼ by 21½ inches, that made $12,980.
A surprising result was obtained for a woodblock by Japanese artist Chiura Obata (1885-1975). The 1930 depiction, “Morning of Mono Lake High Sierra, Calif.,” left its $400/800 estimate far behind to leave the gallery at $11,800. Signed and dated “Chiura Obata / 1930” lower left, the scene was centered in the period mat with title. With frame, it measured 14¾ by 19¾ inches. Obata arrived in the United States in 1903, bringing with him the immigrant’s dream of making it in America. He did, eventually becoming an esteemed professor at the University of California, Berkeley. But that journey to success was interrupted during World War II when Obata was among the 120,000 Japanese imprisoned in incarceration camps. He spent nearly a year interned with his family in the Topaz War Relocation Center in central Utah, but the experience apparently did not dampen his love of America and its landscapes, especially the Sierra Nevada range, a love that was first kindled during a six-week visit to Yosemite in 1927, during which Obata created some 150 watercolor sketches.
A Henry Farny (1847-1916) oil on board from the Wurlitzer estate also pulled in $11,800. The moody moonlit scene dated 1909 and titled “Sylvester-Nacht/Der Enderle Von Ketsch” (Ship Under The Moonlight) was not a typical subject for the artist whose work mainly centered on the lives of Native Americans in the Nineteenth Century. Measuring 9 by 6½ inches, it was signed “Farny” lower right and presented in a custom period frame with an artist’s plaque, carved title and a carved lyric “Schon tanzte die alte Galeere vor Cyprus in funkeinder nacht,” which translates as “The old galley was already dancing in front of Cyprus on a sparkling night.” On the back of the painting was a lengthy, typewritten description by Fred Wurlitzer, dated 1985, regarding the painting’s subject matter, artist and provenance.
Fetching $11,210 was another painting from the Wurlitzer estate. Alice Schille’s (1869-1955) circa 1920-40 watercolor, “Sangre De Cristo Mt Range, N.M.,” was noted in Wurlitzer family records as the view of the Sangre de Cristo mountains from Helene Wurlitzer’s home in Taos, N.M. The Sangre de Cristo mountains are the southernmost subrange of the Rocky Mountains, running from south central Colorado into northern New Mexico. The second peak from the left on recto contains a pencil inscription “Emery,” which is a 7,322-foot mountain northeast of the Sangre de Cristo range. Signed “A. Schille” lower right, the painting measured 10½ by 13½ inches.
An oil on board William de la Montagne Cary (1840-1922) also brought $11,210. It was another surprise in the sale, having been estimated at just $800-$1,200. The late Nineteenth Century oil on board of a Native American warrior crouching with bow and arrow was titled “The Archer.” Signed “W.M. Cary” lower right, the verso inscribed “Babcock” on wood panel, the 6-7/8-by-8¼-inch painting reached $11,210.
Additional fine art highlights included a scene of Texas bluebonnets by late Twentieth Century artist William Slaughter at $9,440; an oil on canvas, “Ducks in Flight,” by Roland Clark, bringing $5,900 and George L. Clough’s rendering of a “Fisherman on a Bridge,” also going out at $5,900.
The furniture category in the sale was led by a Matthew Egerton early Nineteenth Century Hepplewhite butler’s chest/desk. Earning $9,440, the piece had a pleasing original finish on its mahogany case and carried finely executed satin and ebony line inlay. With a fitted inlaid desk interior, drop-down writing surface and prospect door with bellflower plant inlay, it had original period stamped eagle and shield brass and measured 43 by 42 by 43 inches.
A late Nineteenth Century walnut two-door pie safe grabbed bidders’ attention and soared from a $300/500 estimate to $7,080. It had everything anyone would ever want, including front doors with a heart and star design punched on tin panels, two upper pull drawers of dovetailed construction and two fitted interior shelves.
A lighting highlight was a Duffner & Kimberly quatrefoil table lamp going out at $9,440, while Oriental rugs were led by an antique Serapi room-size rug, 11 feet 2 inches by 8 feet 9 inches, that nearly sextupled its high estimate when it was bid to $5,900 despite considerable sun fading and wear.
Folk and sporting art crossed over in the form of a group of four eider decoys, age unknown, one with white body and orange beak with a label “From Bailey Island Maine,” as well as a large full-bodied carved pine tuna fish trade sign, circa 1930s, that had formerly hung from a ceiling beam at Historic Smithville Village, N.J. , for more than 20 years through 1992, when it was purchased at a deaccessioning auction. The 31-by-96-by-38 sign was bid to $5,900, while the decoys left the gallery at $7,670.
Rounding out the sale were 16 Clitso Dedman Navajo Yeibichai Kachina figures, selling for $7,080 and an antique Renault peddle car, circa 1905-10, that arrived at $5,900.
Prices given include the buyer’s premium as stated by the auction house. For information, www.wsmithauction.com or 603-675-2549.
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