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Delta Blues Meets Visual Blues

Marty Steiner | April 26th, 2014


With a presale estimate of $25,000/ 35,000, Sam Doyle’s First Blak Midwife, house paint on found roofing tin, 50" x 28", opened at $50,000 and never slowed down. With active phone bidding and jump bids, it sold at $204,000 to the sound of an in-house cheer.


Second place is rarely noticed or even remembered. Sam Doyle’s Dr. Buz Ha Lo would stand on its own in any sale. The 29" x 12" piece was painted on roofing tin and has an applied conch shell. At $8280 (est. $3000/6000), it was a quiet prize for a phone bidder.


William Hawkins’s bold Rider on Horseback, enamel on masonite, 39" x 50½", bears his birth date. Busy phone bidders raced it to $43,200 (est. $20,000/30,000).


Visionary artists frequently present scripture in visual form. Minnie Evans’s 1963 oil on canvas panel Solomon’s Temple, 16" x 20",attempts to portray the scriptural temple in all its glory and splendor. With a Whitney Museum of American Art provenance, it reigned strongly at $11,400 (est. $6000/9000).


Myrtice West (1923-2010) is particularly known for her Revelation series, which presents individual chapters of this last book in scripture. Each painting is large and incredibly detailed. Christ Returns as Church Gets Ready; King of Kings and Lord of Lords Revelations Chapter 19, paint and glitter on canvas, 34½" x 50", sold on the phones for $11,400 (est. $800/1200).


The breadth of Mattie Lou O’Kelley’s work was seen in the 11 lots sold in this sale. Among the four landscapes was My Georgia, a 12" x 16" oil on canvas, which sold on line for $3690 (est. $800/1200).


The number of quilts offered in the Slotin sales has steadily declined. Early and anonymous examples rarely show up. This early (1930s) hand-stitched mustard- and ketchup-colored large star cotton quilt, 80" x 69", brought $1800 (est. $800/1200), significantly more than the contemporary examples in the sale.


Lee Godie’s work is usually pencil, ink, and/or painted portraiture. Here a pair of black-and-white signed photographs of herself by Godie, with some painted highlights, reached an incredible $11,400 (est. $300/500).

Slotin Folk Art Auction, Buford, Georgia

Photos courtesy Slotin Folk Art Auction

Larry Troutman has been the auctioneer of the Slotin Folk Art Auctions for many years. Just before the April 26 and 27 auction started, he candidly observed that even during these current soft economic times, the Slotin sales have continued to produce steady sales and prices, but he never knows what to expect as each sale begins. Any doubts Troutman may have had were totally dispelled as the sale progressed.

Slotin sales have continued to draw a significant and active in-house bidding attendance. A few regulars were noticeably missing for this sale. In-house bidders generally are favored by the auctioneer and also get a break on the buyer’s premium. They pay only 15%, while on-line bidders pay 23%, and all others pay 20%. All prices stated in this article include a 20% buyer’s premium.

As always, pottery led off, with 125 lots being offered. Most of the major potters were represented, both past masters and contemporary. Among these were B.B. Craig, W.J. Gordy, Charles Lisk, Marie Rogers, and members of the Hewell, Brown, and Meaders families. An unusually large group of 12 Lanier Meaders face jugs were among the 40 Meaders family lots.

Fully 25% of the total sales figure would be booked in a dozen lots, sold in roughly a few minutes of this two-day sale. The print catalog cover image presented Sam Doyle’s St. Helena’s First Blak Midwife Trane By Dr. White. The buzz from some of the veteran collectors at the sale was that this lot would “break the bank.” Part of the appeal was that, according to Chuck Rosenak, this item was the most prized possession of his late wife, Jan. This painting is pictured in the Rosenaks’ Museum of American Folk Art Encyclopedia of Twentieth-Century American Folk Art and Artists (1990). With a presale estimate of $25,000/35,000, the painting opened at $50,000. After a series of jump bids, it finally settled at $204,000.

Other masters followed, including three William Hawkins, three Clementine Hunters, single examples by Minnie Evans and Myrtice West, and nearly a dozen Mattie Lou O’Kelleys. All were strong sellers.

Occasionally Slotin includes some non-folk art material in a sale. Usually this is because a folk art collector has combined this material with folk art consignments. Walter “Pete” Glenn was an avid folk art collector in the Atlanta area. Like many collectors, he had other collecting interests as well. In Glenn’s case one of his first collecting passions was American blues music. With roots in the South and particularly in the African-American community, blues is the folk art of music. Glenn’s estate consigned 139 lots of blues memorabilia that kicked off the Sunday portion of the Slotin sale.

Glenn’s 27 concert posters included some of the rarest, and many were signed. The top-selling poster was a signed 1966 poster for Muddy Waters at Fillmore Auditorium that sold for $1140. The poster was designed by Wes Wilson, considered the father of 1960s rock concert posters. Seventy-four framed vintage photos of musicians followed. Some were signed, and others were framed with accompanying signature cards.

Among the more unusual blues material were three framed 1920s song sheets. Chirpin’ the Blues and Gulf Coast Blues both featured Bessie Smith head shots. The first brought $120, and the second, with the composer’s original stamp, “[Clarence] Williams Music House, Birmingham, AL,” reached $480. A copy of W.C. Handy’s St. Louis Blues featured in Lew Leslie’s Blackbirds of 1928 settled for $120.

An unusual Marine Band harmonica trade sign was somewhat blue at only $360 even with three prominent blues performers’ signatures on it. Curiously, a later unsigned “High Hat Package Store” trade sign brought $480. Two autographed showcase guitars sold, including a Kingston with over 20 autographs for $840, and a Kay Son House tribute guitar, decorated and with an autographed 1970 concert ticket, for $480.

The top blues lot was a framed original lab copy of Robert Johnson’s 1937 recording of “Walkin’ Blues” and “Sweet Home Chicago” by the Brunswick Record Corporation. Phone and on-line bidders took it to $5160. An original reel-to-reel B.B. King tape brought only $120.

In a synchronistic happening, a group of primitive folk instruments had been consigned by a New York collector. The group, comprising 15 lots with nearly 40 instruments, formed a complementary offering to the Glenn blues collection. Fiddles, box-body stringed creations, autoharps, and even a “bedpandolin” sold. Most brought low bids, with prices ranging from $30 for the bedpandolin to $540 for the group of three box instruments. Most were probably bought as curiosities or decorations.

The crossover of folk art and blues music was further emphasized by the work of Lonnie Holley. Holley began making “art” in 1979 by carving family grave markers from sandstone casting scraps from an iron foundry. Now an accomplished and much sought-after
folk artist, he has recently recorded his first two records, which achieved instant success. His album Just Before Music received a billing on the Washington Post’s “Top Ten Albums for 2013.”

His art offerings in this sale included one early example of a 13" high sandstone carving, To You All of Africa, that brought $480 and five examples of his assemblages of found materials including one environmental piece. The environmental piece, Mask for My Sister’s Baby, caught a lull, bringing only $30. Paintings included 13 examples that ranged in price from $90 to $660.

Many bidders follow the Slotin sales seeking the older, authentic, and usually anonymous crafts. Although these were clearly in the minority at this sale, with only 30 such lots scattered throughout, they warrant mention. A later (1970s) and signed example, a carved and painted wood doll of a black boy with handmade clothes, reached $480. An African-American marionette brought $120, and two dancing jiggers reached $240 and $120. A jigger is an articulated figure that appears to dance when shaken, usually upon a flat surface under suspended legs. An interesting carved shoeshine box with a leather flap and decorated with snuff tags, dated 1885, initialed “TA” and carved “Milwauk,” brought $360.

What’s next in the Slotin folk art world? The 21st annual Folk Fest is scheduled for August 15-17 at the North Atlanta Trade Center in Norcross, Georgia. This three-day event will have about 100 exhibitors with almost every form and age of folk and Outsider art, both American and international. Over 12,000 people attend every year.

The Slotin Fall Masterpiece auction will take place at the historic Buford Hall in Buford, Georgia, on November 8 and 9. This two-day sale is billed as “The Strange, The Unusual, The Vanishing America.” Like all previous Slotin sales it will most likely exceed expectations.

For information on all Slotin events and prices realized from previous sales, contact Slotin Folk Art at (770) 532-1115 or see the Web site (www.slotinfolkart.com).

Ulysses Davis (1914-1990) is known for finely carved and painted works. The only example in this sale, a carved, stained, and varnished wood figure described as a “Multi Gender Vampire Figure,” 14" high, drew $8400 (est. $2000/ 4000) from one of many phone bidders.

Cheever Meaders, pair of Indian motif whiskey jugs, 1960s, initialed on bottom, ash glaze, each 8½" high, $13,200 (est. $2000/4000).

Sugar chests are a furniture form primarily from the Southeast, especially from coastal communities and plantations. An unusual inlaid decorated walnut sugar chest from South Carolina, 1825-50, in the form of a slant-front desk was exhibited at the 2009 Winter Antiques Show in New York City by Leigh Keno. The Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts (MESDA) identified the piece as probably from the Williams family around Spartanburg and Laurens Counties, South Carolina. The slant lid opens to an interior compartment (without dividers, pigeonholes, or interior drawers) over two large, deep dovetailed drawers. The inlay is arranged in geometric patterns. Most notable are the eye designs on the case sides, lid, and drawer fronts and the diamond inlay at the key escutcheons on the drawers and lid. It had an old surface and measured 38" x 35½" x 16". It was purchased from the estate of David Berry of Spartanburg, South Carolina. According to the catalog, “a Bible which descended in the Williams family exhibits the only known and almost exact design elements as found on the sugar chest.” The sugar chest brought $36,000 (est. $10,000/20,000).


Originally published in the August 2014 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2014 Maine Antique Digest

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