Published: November 26, 2019
Review and Onsite Photos by Marty Steiner, Additional Photos Courtesy of Slotin Folk Art
BUFORD, GA. – The mood at Slotin auctions, as at any premier auction house, is one of expectation. What record prices will we see? What surprises will unfold? Which artist’s works will bring particularly strong bids? These expectations arise from prior Slotin sales, which have consistently generated numerous record prices and a variety of surprises.
Every auction attempts to project its top lots in a positive fashion. The November 9-10 Slotin sale projected William Hawkins’ “Elk With Human Eyes” ($30/50,000) and Howard Finster’s “Vision of George on Planet Loraleon” ($30/40,000) to top this sale. They did, albeit in swapped positions, with Finster selling for $49,200 and Hawkins at $38,400.
There had been considerable speculation and expectation about the Finster piece due to the few large examples (4-foot square) of his work known. A previous Finster of this size brought the current record price of $51,600 at a 2013 Slotin sale. This sale’s piece, in an artist’s four-layer wood-burned frame, will be going to the Bethany Mission Gallery in Philadelphia. This gallery houses the private Outsider artist collection of Victor Keen, and the work will join more than a dozen other Finster examples and more than 60 other artists’ works in that collection.
The Hawkins work had resided in a private collection for decades and was fresh to the market. It was purchased by a well-known American journalist via phone bid. There were three other Hawkins works, smaller pencil on paper, offered in the sale.
Among the surprises, with the third highest price in the sale, was Eugene Von Bruenchenbein’s “Surreal Cityscape,” more than doubling its high estimate of $8,000 and selling for $21,600. This is a record price for his work, which is seldom seen at auction. The last Slotin appearance was a single painting one year ago and it sold for $11,000.
Both of the Sam Doyle paint-on-roofing-tin examples in this sale were successful at $18,000 and $15,600, respectively, for “Penn Drummer Boy” and “Dr Boles.” The “Penn Drummer Boy” was part of Doyle’s environment and was originally purchased directly from that location.
These were followed by Elijah Pierce’s 1972 “Spreading the Light” painted bas-relief wood panel variation of Tubman, spiritual or the Statue of Liberty for $13,200. One of the other Pierce examples, “Big Eye, Little You,” followed closely at $10,200.
Carved wood forms, both bas-relief and three dimensional, are perhaps an outgrowth of the whittling traditions of many centuries. Carved and painted examples continue a strong presence among the top-dollar lots at Slotin sales. The lone Herbert Singleton carved and painted cedar relief of a New Orleans funeral parade band played a sweet $9,600 anthem. A classic S.L. Jones man’s bust of carved natural wood with painted eyes and hair, one of four Jones lots, sold to an online bidder for $4,800.
These lots led off another top of its game auction by Slotin Folk Art Auctions. With more than 1,010 lots sold across the two days, the sale grossed $1,065,000.
Other artists with strong showings included two Joseph Yoakum Outsider landscapes. works from the collection of Gerard C. Wertkin, former American Folk Art Museum director. Yoakum’s “Black Hills South Dakota” ink on paper sold for $12,000, and his “Lake Country in Northwest Maine” brought $7,800, both in the sale’s top 20 lots. Yoakum is known for creating these landscapes, many of places that he’d never seen.
Three Mattie Lou O’Kelley nostalgic oil on canvas views of country life were sold. A phone bidder won her “Autumn in the Hills” with Cleveland Museum of Art provenance at $10,800, among the top ten lots. “The Country Store” and “Snow at the Old Place,” also by O’Kelley, brought strong $6,000 and $4,800 bids, respectively.
All three of Scottie Wilson’s incredibly intricate colored pencil and ink images met or exceeded estimates. His signed but untitled large man sold for $10,200, tied for the tenth highest winning bid. Its provenance included UK’s leading Outsider art dealer Henry Boxer Gallery.
Saturday’s sale also included five Purvis Young paint on found materials. Four sold in the top echelon, including “Two Warriors on Horseback,” $9,600; “Riders on Horseback,” $9,000; “Cement Truck in Front of Building,” $8,360; and “Giant Yellow Men” at $6,000. This last particularly large painting on a framed full sheet of plywood measured 4 by 8 feet tall. Sunday offered additional smaller Young examples.
The two largest of six Thornton Dial watercolor on artist paper brought strong winning bids, with “Moving Clouds” moving to a phone bidder’s collection for $9,000 and “Nude Woman with Tiger” finishing at $4,440.
The lone Jon Serl offering (ex New York City’s Cavin-Morris Gallery) was titled “Carping” but evoked scriptural imagery of fish in baskets. A great catch at $9,000.
Joseph Garlock was represented by three entirely different media examples. His oil on canvas “Waterfall with Nude Bather” almost overflowed its high estimate with a $5,520 online bid.
In a strange anomaly, an unauthorized Andy Warhol screenprint poster on woven paper of “New England Clam Chowder,” one of his “Campbell’s Soup,” series brought $14,400. From a European collection and hardly folk art, it sold to a phone bidder in active bidding. Three of Warhol’s print series were printed from his original negatives by known “friends” in Europe with the signature “Sunday B. Morning” in numbered series of 250.
Southern Folk Pottery
Much like a top rock band in concert, there is a warmup before the star attraction. At Slotin sales the warmup is a group of Southern folk pottery followed by miscellaneous items.
The standard-bearers of Southern folk pottery were all represented, including the Meaders family, Burlon Craig, Charles Lisk and Billy Ray Hussey. The top pottery lot was a large, 4-gallon, 16½-inch-tall Burlon Craig salt glazed, double loop handle face jug for $2,040. North Carolina potter Billy Ray Hussey’s work drew strong bids, with a tall 5-gallon devil face jug and a large, full-maned lion (Hussey’s signature form) each bringing $1,080.
The miscellaneous group frequently includes carnival items, such as banners, knock-down dolls or shooting range targets. These banners were usually created by circus or carnival workers and qualify as Outsider art. Four banners, three by the same artist, brought $1,440 to $3,000 each.
Unusual in any sale were a few lots of Judaica. These included the carved wood decorative cornice top from an ark, along with a silver and gold thread embroidered ark curtain. Both were bought by the same bidder.
Four lots of colored pencil drawings of Sioux Indians on old blank ledger pages were both historic documents as well as qualifying as an untrained artist’s work. They drew strong bids and sold for $4,320 to $5,880.
Eight lots of Native American items were offered, including Cherokee river cane baskets from the Museum of the Cherokee Indian in Cherokee, N.C.
Also among the sale’s surprises was an unsigned, but attributed to Hawkins Bolden, Christ-like Totem assemblage of tin and pots that sold to a phone bidder for $5,520, nearly double expectations.
To be able to consistently offer the very best in folk and Outsider art, the Slotins are entrusted with the sale of many notable lifetime collections, major museum deaccessions and the inventory of long-established galleries that have closed. This sale included items from the Ames Gallery in Berkeley, Calif., that closed after 45 years of operation, Columbus (Ohio) Museum of Art deaccessions, Museum of American Folk Art, Alabama collectors Georgine and Jack Clarke and many other museums, universities and collectors.
Steve Slotin reflected, “When we started 25 years ago, very few people knew or cared about this art. Now we see our influence in other auctions and art shows across the country, which will include some folk and Outsider high-end material. We are still leading the way by constantly looking, finding and giving attention to these newly discovered artists by presenting their work in an inclusive approach.”
Amy Slotin, asked about record prices, could hardly contain herself. “There were so many…Scottie Wilson, Joseph Garlock, a Slotin ‘new discovery’ Mark Francis and even an African American story quilt by Chris Clark, plus others,” she said.
Perhaps even more important than the numbers and dollars is this perception of folk and Outsider art in its myriad forms and their inclusion in the Slotin auctions. A longtime collector and Outsider art advocate from Chicago who always attends these Slotin sales in person commented, “I was particularly interested in seeing whether the increased interest and strong prices for African American Southern artists like Traylor, Yoakum, Pierce and Purvis Young would be sustained. It seems like every auction house selling folk art is trying to catch up with Steve and Amy Slotin, the pioneers in supporting and selling self-taught art.” He is among a small cadre of significant folk, Outsider and self-taught artist collectors who gather at each of these Slotin sales.
This collector added, “my interest is also in that next level of artists, who, for many reasons, have not yet taken the huge price leap to that upper circle. Will that happen? The answer would be found in the many choice pieces available and sold in this sale. That answer was a resounding yes!”
A review of this sale’s catalog and prices realized will provide more than a thousand answers to that question for dozens of forms and hundreds of artists.
Prices given include the buyer’s premium as stated by the auction house. Slotin’s spring sale is scheduled for April 25-26. For more information, www.slotinfolkart.com or 770 532-1115.
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