Published: March 23, 2021
Review by Greg Smith, Catalog Photos Courtesy Slotin Folk Art Auctions
BUFORD, GA. – A few years ago, Steve Slotin would have held a marathon Self-Taught Masterpiece Sale in April that included every category of self-taught art under the sun. Today he’s more selective with that sale, and the result was a 440-lot riotous auction in March offering a fine selection of Americana, Folk Art & Curiosities.
“I enjoy selling the circus and sideshow stuff, and I love the tattoo flash,” Slotin told Antiques and The Arts Weekly. “But being able to incorporate that with Twentieth Century self-taught art, it makes for an interesting sale. It brings more buyers to us and helps expand the collections of our buyers. The umbrella is just getting bigger and collectors are becoming more experienced in seeing this material.”
The auction began with nine banners that drew favor. Leading them at $6,875 was a circus banner for “Eeka vs Jungle Killers” by Fred Johnson, the prolific sideshow artist. His career spanned 65 years as he created works for Clyde Beatty, Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey and more. “The Indian Rubber Girl” featured a woman in a box with a man sticking swords through it and, presumably, her. That example brought $2,875.
“With people moving into industrial-style rooms, these fill those spaces right,” Slotin said. “One sideshow banner really makes a bold statement. I’ve seen people in New York hang them on their ceiling.”
The personal suitcase of Prince Randian, also known as “The Human Caterpillar,” “The Human Torso” or “Snake Man,” went on to sell for $2,250. Randian was born limbless and, in spite of his handicap, would go on to perform sideshow acts that included him rolling a cigarette on stage. He fathered no less than five children.
The sale found its lot leader in an anonymous decorated religious vest that sold for $8,750. “The writing and drawings were so clean, it was almost like flash art,” Slotin said. Though the writing was in Latin, Slotin believed it was created by a Hispanic artist.
A tramp art collection combined with a few offerings from other consignors for 32 lots. Included were a number of furniture pieces, a 32-inch-high lamp with ball in cage décor that blew away its estimate to sell for $4,500. A table and chest took $1,188.
“The furniture and the larger pieces are hard to come by,” Slotin said. “Some of the larger pieces stay in families, but the boxes form a real variety. We had a good diversity of items.”
Also included was a $1,000 result for a crown of thorn tea table, 29 inches high and 24 inches diameter. A lock box with lid and the initials FG sold for $875. The chip carving featured a forest with a central plaque of a relief carved deer. The gabled roof featured a dormer window with two children looking out.
Religious figures were led by a $4,125 result for an 80-inch-high carved Jesus with open arms, initialed JEG. The piece was crafted in solid and largely raw wood with some remains of gesso and paint. At $3,500 was a life-size angel figure standing on clouds, 81 inches high.
Numerous anonymous carved wood figures found a notable result in a standing nude woman holding a staff, 42 inches high, which brought $875.
Works from Outsider artist Purvis Young found three of the top five prices in the sale. “We’re trying to be very careful and letting out some wonderful examples a few at a time,” Slotin said. The top lot for the artist was a group of two books, a large work on paper and three smaller works on paper that brought $8,750. Behind at $8,125 was a an “erotic book and thick book,” both seemingly found volumes that the artist painted in. “Purvis was into erotica, he loved erotic books and magazines,” Slotin said. “That one book, I’ll call it the WAP book, that was what he was into and he decorated it.”
In flash art came a framed page possibly by an artist named Leroy-Millie, featuring female snake dancers and lady sailors. It sold well above estimate for $4,625. Also possibly by the artist was a sheet that brought $813, while a sheet signed by the artist sold for $1,000.
All prices include buyer’s premium as quoted by the auction house. Slotin’s Self-Taught Masterpiece sale is scheduled for April 24. For more information, 770-532-1115 or www.slotinfolkart.com.
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