Published: May 31, 2022
Review by Madelia Hickman Ring, Photos Courtesy South Bay Auctions
EAST MORICHES, N.Y. – After quilt dealer Laura Fisher passed away at the end of September 2021, her family approached South Bay Auctions to sell her inventory of quilts and household furnishings as well as fine art and Fisher’s personal jewelry. After selecting more than 400 lots, of which a significant majority were quilts, coverlets, hooked rugs and samplers, the Long Island firm hosted a single owner auction on May 21. More than 93 percent of the sale sold, according to the auction house’s co-owner, Jean-Paul Napoli.
“It was quite a sale; there had a been a lot of buzz [about it],” he said. “It was an honor to be asked to handle such an important collection. She was such a force in a market that hasn’t been doing very well, but with her name recognition, things really took off. I was happy to see so much interest.”
Napoli noted that the sale attracted not only new clients but also many clients who had not been active in recent years. Competition took place on two online platforms, where about 800 people watched the sale, as well as from bidders in the room, on the phone and by absentee bid. While there were some surprises, he thought the sale generally met his expectations, saying “we hit the mark pretty well.”
Fisher’s quilt collection was significant – more than 1,000 remain which the firm will be selling in numerous future sales – and represented “every category” according to Napoli. One of the categories that attracted significant interest was African American quilts, of which there were seven, including the sale’s top lot, a Strip Bars Five-Panel pieced quilt from Tennessee, mid-Twentieth Century, which was purchased by the Tennessee State Museum for $7,200.
A rare African American World Geography pictorial quilt that had been made by the Lomax sisters, Kentucky, circa 1940s-50s in rayon, silk and cotton sold to an internet bidder for $5,875, the fourth highest price in the sale. Not only had it been exhibited at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the American Folk Art Museum, but it had been published as the cover of the Gallery at Bristol-Myers Squibb exhibition catalog, in the 1992 book, New York Beauties: Quilts from the Empire State by Jacqueline M. Atkins, Phyllis A. Tepper and Lee Kogan (1992), as well as in a 2004 calendar published by Fisher. According to the catalog note, the Lomax sisters, who never traveled far from their home in Kentucky, created the pictorial blocks from images they’d seen in National Geographic. Rounding out the top prices on African American quilts was $3,840 for an African American Zipper quilt that had been made in Hardin, Tenn., by two unnamed sisters who worked it from scraps saved from the clothing factory they worked in.
Napoli said there had been interest from Hawaii in a vivid Hawaiian Monarchy Flags appliqued quilt that realized $7,250; he said it sold to an online bidder. The late Nineteenth Century cotton example is apparently one of few surviving examples.
Fisher also dealt in – and collected – American folk furniture and her apartment had several pieces that were included in the sale; it was a category that Napoli thought brought surprisingly high results. Making $6,480 was a folk art painted bed with Skowhegan, Maine, river landscapes on the headboard and footboard, while a carved stepback cupboard that may have been from Ohio, went out at $3,720. A baker’s dozen lots of parquetry furniture and smalls achieved results from $90 for a lapboard desk to $2,520 for a two-level bar cart.
Topping a sparse selection of samplers at $3,120 was a Vermont needlework sampler worked in 1820 by 13-year-old Lucinda Lamb Townshend that depicted two verses above a landscape with house, figures and folate motifs. The same price was paid for a circa 1940s hooked rug made by Mercedes and James Hutchinson of New York that depicted the couple with the quote, “A miss is as good as a mile”; it was the highest price fetched from a field of more than 40 examples.
Prices quoted include the buyer’s premium as reported by the auction house.
For information, 631-878-2909 or www.southbayauctions.com.
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