Auction Action In Buford, Ga.
BUFORD, GA. – For nearly three decades, Steve and Amy Slotin have presented both Spring and Fall Masterpiece Folk Art Auctions. Most of these were in-person gatherings of collectors, artists, gallery owners and museum professionals sharing their common interest in folk, self-taught and outsider art. These sales continue, but in online and absentee style, courtesy of Covid.
The most recent Slotin Spring Masterpiece Sale, with 750 lots sold over two days, April 23 and 24. It drew bidders from all around the world. This sale grossed a Slotin record $1.725 million with the highest winning bid of $40,000.
The ten highest priced lots represented eight different artists and various types and forms of art. Joseph Yoakum’s “Mt. Alpha of Brooks Range near Wiseman, Alaska U.S.A.” topped the prices realized list at $40,000. This ink and colored pencil work, as well as another Yoakum at the third highest price of $23,750, “Sao Lourenco Mtn Range Near Reo de Janiero Brazil,” bested catalog estimates.
It should be noted that the Slotins, after decades of passion and experience with the folk, self-taught and outsider art genre, generate highly credible and conservative estimates for their sale catalogs. This is reflected in the actual sales results for many of the listings.
Immediately following Yoakum’s lead was an unusual and atypical James Castle construction of folded found cardboard in the form of a red jacket that realized $31,250. Castle is generally known for his spit and soot scenes such as an untitled farm scenescape in the sale which reached $10,000.
Like Yoakum, Marian Spore Bush’s two lots in this sale both brought top dozen results. Her large, haunting black and white “Gaunt Bird of Famine,” with typical heavy oil on canvas, blew away the estimate of $1/2,000 and sold for $30,000. A more colorful Bush example, “Ghostly Woman” brought $17,500. Bush, who passed away in 1943, has always been a puzzle to biographers. She was educated and practiced as a dentist when that was quite unusual for a woman. With no art training, she quit her dental practice and after her mother’s death began to paint with inspiration “from dead artists.” Slotin has previously sold other examples of her work with strong results.
Lanier Meaders face jugs are iconic and generally sell for respectable and consistent prices. A rare devil jack-o-lantern example possibly set a record for his work bringing $23,750 and ranking as the fifth highest lot in this sale. The other five Lanier face jugs all met or exceeded their estimates bringing $1,125 for a somewhat bulbous example to $4,395 for a double handled double face version. Anther pottery lot of particular note was an early 22-inch-tall B.B. Craig double handled face jug with blue routille runs which reached $5,250.
Other “Masters” sold in this auction included two Minnie Evans paint, crayon, marker and graphite works. Evans’ “Queen of Garden with Flanking Angels” drew a $23,125 winning bid placing seventh in this sale. Her other example, “Face with Fauna,” sold for $10,625.
Eight Clementine Hunter paintings followed with her framed “African House” topping the group at $15,625. This colorful oil on paper work was signed “Clemence,” an early 1940s identity, that was also later initialed. All eight of her paintings met or exceeded expectations.
Nellie Mae Rowe’s half dozen examples included her framed “Orange Rooster” which, at $15,000 came up short of expectations but was still among the leading dollar lots. Typical of her work, it utilized paint, crayon, colored pencil and marker, on paper.
Thornton Dial, with an artistic preoccupation for nude women, tigers and cats, had ten watercolor on artist paper offerings. All met or exceeded expectations, ranging from $2,375 for his framed “Girl with Hat” to $9,375 for his “Nude With Tiger Over City.”
Sister Gertrude Morgan grew up in Columbus, Ga., which made her “1324 No. Ave Columbus Georgia” a very personal image. Historically important, she wrote her story on this painting of being called to preach God’s word through her art while living at this house on December 30, 1934. The work called up a $20,000 win. Three other Sister works in the sale included “Day of Vengeance” ($4,000), “Cathedral Church Phenix City Al” ($3,625), and Four Angels ($3,625).
Prolific Howard Finster had 24 examples in this sale. These ranged from an enamel on board “Saten Will” that made $23,125, “Our Little Church” for $17,500, with three other works that gaveled down for more than $10,000. Many of the Finsters were sold in the artist’s wood-burned frames.
Sterling Strauser, was an artist, collector and promoter of American folk art. His “Portrait of Jack and Mae Savitsky” at $2,625 hopefully joined a collection of Jack Savitsky’s paintings. All four Savitsky oil on Masonite paintings in the sale, documenting life in coal-mining Pennsylvania, drew strong bids exceeding estimates with “Pay Day” bringing the most at $10,000.
An additional example of an artist recognizing the work of another is Roy Ferdinand’s paint, ink and graphite on poster board “Portrait of Herbert Singleton.” At $8,125, perhaps it joined one of the two lots by Herbert Singleton, whose “Cash for Crack,” a painted bas-relief cedar board at $3,875, or a carved and painted stump religious figure for $2,875, also sold in this sale.
Three dimensional forms make up a significant part of the folk art genre. Masters here include Elijah Pierce, Edgar Tolson, S.L. Jones and David Butler, who worked in painted cutout tin. Pierce’s nearly 2-foot-long “Large Ferocious Gator” chased internet bidders to a $17,500 win, more than doubling expectations and setting the pace for carved wood figures. Signed and dated 1970, Pierce utilized pebbles to enhance this carved and painted example. Three other signed and dated Pierce examples included the “Vet Office,” a carved and painted wood-relief plaque utilizing costume jewelry ($2,875), “Neighbors” with two men chatting ($2,500) and a man and woman pair of free-standing figures ($1,250) also were sold.
Kentucky’s Edgar Tolson’s only example in this sale, “Jockey With Horse,” rode off with a $12,500 winning bid at the wire. Numerous other recognizable practitioners of the three dimensional forms were sold for modest prices in this sale. While there are far too many to mention here, they may be seen in the online catalogs.
Minnie and Greg Adkins are known for animal images both in carved and painted wood and, Minnie in quilts. Her animal quilt with 20 animal panels snapped up a $5,625 sale. This sale included a variety of other quilts.
A primary source of folk art history is the Rozenak couple. Chuck and Jan Rozenak are known for their three encyclopedic books documenting American folk art. They also collected primary examples of folk art. From the Rozenak collection, a nearly 5-foot mixed media shrimp boat constructed by J.P. Scott netted an $11,875 winning bid, more than doubling estimates.
Another 350 lots of similar material were offered on the second day of the sale, which was led at $6,875 by a Nineteenth Century portrait of a woman. Jake McCord’s vivid pink flamingoes charmed bidders out of $5,750, while a 1997 oil on canvas of a Mississippi flood by Helen LaFrance rounded out the top three, at $5,375.
The blessing and the challenge of collecting folk art is the large number of known and recognized artists as well as the wide variety of forms. Slotin auctions have become a primary source not only of the art, but of knowledgeable information as well.
Slotin’s website provides access to 21 of their past catalogs and prices realized from 2014, a virtual universe of helpful information for the collector. Liveauctioneers.com offers 71 Slotin catalogs back to 2004!
Asked about their perception of this sale, Amy Slotin pointed to 100 percent sales, “not a single lot passed!” She added, “interest was so high that a number of bidders actually flew in the week before to preview even though there was no live, onsite bidding.” With a sales gross more than $1.72 million, which is a Slotin record, 73 percent of the lots sold to the internet, but most of the “bigger ticket items” sold to phone and left bids. “With ten operators, more than 360 very active phone bidders were serviced, including many excited bidders from France,” Amy recounted. Internet bidders from many European countries, Israel, Gambia, China and South Korea made up the 11,000 with more than 265,000 viewing the online catalog.
Steve Slotin further expanded on this sale with: “This record setting sale did so without the benefit of any $100,000 lots! It demonstrated the broader, richer culture and interest in folk art with dozens of artist’s work attracting collectors.”
“Overall, the trends for this material are up but with people specifically fighting for the masters” was Slotin’s summary. There are no plans to resume in-person auctions until “Covid is under control.”
The next Slotin auction, their Summer “Fun Folk Art Sale” to benefit the Finster Paradise Gardens, is scheduled for August 6-7, followed on November 12-13 with their Fall Masterpiece Sale.
Prices quoted include the buyer’s premium as reported by the auction house. For information, www.slotinfolkart.com or 770-532-1115.
Joseph Yoakum is known for his many mountainous landscapes, many of which he never actually visited. The highest price in the sale at $40,000 was his “Mt. Alpha of Brooks Range Near Wiseman, Alaska U.S.A.”
James Castle’s “Red Jacket Construction,” an undated and unsigned example that was in excellent condition and referenced in the catalog as a “masterpiece” example achieved $31,250.
Marian Spore Bush utilized thick paint to create haunting images. Regarded by some as a spiritualist, she also lived a life in high society. “The Gaunt Bird of Famine” flew to $30,000.
Lanier Meaders is synonymous with face jugs, but the jack-o-lantern form is quite unusual. This example made $23,750.
Howard Finster was a prolific preacher by art. This sale alone offered 24 Finster works, led, at $23,125, by “Saten Will.”
Minnie Evans works are readily identifiable, colorful and symmetrical images with natural elements of flora and fauna. “Queen of Garden with Flanking Angels” rose to $23,125.
Sister Gertrude Morgan answered God’s calling to preach with her art. It all began here in 1934, with her rendering of her house titled “1324 No Avenue, Columbus, Georgia, I Got This Calling On The 30th Day of Dec. in 1934.” The historically important work went out at $20,000.
Elijah Pierce began carving wood figures as a child and grew to be a National Endowment of the Arts honoree. Bidders chased his “Large Ferocious Gator” to $17,500.
Known to some as the memory painter from Melrose Plantation in Louisiana, Clementine Hunter’s work shows plantation life in bold colors. “African House” topped off at $15,625.
Nellie Mae Rowe saw things differently and believed God wanted her to draw them as she saw them. “Orange Rooster” brought the low estimate, $15,000.
Perhaps riding on the timely interest in the Kentucky Derby helped Edgar Tolson’s carved and painted “Jockey with Horse” gallop to a $12,500 finish. It is one of just two known examples of this subject.
If it has bold colors and is a Pennsylvania scene, it must be by Jack Savitsky. His “Erie Railroad” chugged up an $8,125 price.
All Mattie Lou O’Kelley’s paintings make one want to smile, remember better days and bid. “Gathering Walnuts on the Hill on a Cold Day” gathered a $13,125 winning bid.
Jimmy Lee Suddath is known for his mud and paint media. This “Couple on Horseback” trotted to $6,125.
Many folk artists use whatever is at hand. Bessie Harvey saw a golden angel in this root and added paint and found jewelry to bring her out. “Golden Angel” was heavenly at $6,875.
David Butler’s palette is tin, cut and painted. This scriptural-based “Seven Headed Beast of Revelations” scared up a $6,875 bid.
Run out of wall space…no problem, Minnie Adkins’ “Animal Quilt” could simply grace a bed! It brought the cozy price of $5,625.
This portrait of a beautiful woman by an unknown painter, done in oil on canvas backed to Masonite charmed bidders out of $6,875. It was the highest price realized on the second day of the sale.
Jake McCord’s “Flamingos,” 1990, signed and dated in paint on plywood, flew to $5,750.
“Mississippi Flood” by Helen LaFrance, 1997, rose to $5,375.