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Million-Dollar Folk Art Sale

Marty Steiner | November 9th, 2013

Every Slotin sale has a number of Howard Finster works. This Finster, Vision of Mary’s Angel, 6000.908, October 14, 1987, enamel on wood, 48" x 48", ex-Phyllis Kind Gallery, was the highest-priced piece in the sale, bringing $51,600.

Sister Gertrude Morgan, The Rising of Lazarus (Triptych): Christ the Multitude, Christ at the Door, and Raising of Lazarus, 1970-75, signed, acrylic, ink, and watercolor on found paper, 12½" x 26½", $24,000. It is illustrated in Pictured in My Mind (1996), p. 144, and it was exhibited at Intuit in the traveling retrospective of Sister Gertrude Morgan in 2005.

Historic Frances Tavern is the subject of Vestie Davis’s 1968 18" x 38" oil on canvas. At $14,400 it made an in-house bidder very happy.

This unusual anonymous stoneware face lid, 1850-1900, 7½" high, illustrated in American Folk Sculpture by Robert Bishop, reached $14,400 from a phone bidder. It had two chips along the front of the hairline, one on top, one chigger bite on tip of nose, and one along an ear.

“Thanks To You”indeed! The winning bid of $14,400 took this 44" x 16" x 17" carved and painted wood doll with tattered clothes home. It was made by Calvin and Ruby Black, and it sat at the entrance of Possum Trot, a roadside attraction operated for more than 25 years by the Blacks.

Labeled a “Slotin Auction Favorite,” Mattie Lou O’Kelley’s 24" x 36" Dividing Fruit with the Neighbors became someone else’s favorite for $15,600. With provenance of the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown, New York, it was one of two O’Kelleys bought by the same bidder.

The other Mattie Lou O’Kelley, Sun Setting Hill Farm, 24" x 32", brought a winning bid of $20,400.

Surprise. With a presale estimate of only $200/400, Prophet Royal Robertson’s 120-page notebook filled with images and writings brought $24,300. The buyer was a European collector bidding on line.

Slotin Folk Art, Buford, Georgia

Photos courtesy Slotin Folk Art

The Slotin Folk Art auction held November 9 and 10, 2013, offered no specific collection or collections as a featured source.

Only 14 lots of the 1116 offered exceeded $10,000. However, many lots in the midrange, $1000 to $9999, seemed to have strong bidding and solid results. That is a subtle but significant shift in recent years. This was a million-dollar folk art sale!

The sale kicked off with 113 lots of pottery with few surprises. Eight Lanier Meaders face pots continued a pattern of strong bidding with results ranging from $2280 to $7200 (includes buyers’ premiums). A Lanier face candelabrum brought $7440. Edwin Meaders, the youngest brother of Lanier, was represented with three lots, including one of his iconic blue roosters. Altogether there were 26 lots of Meaders family pottery representing 11 different potters. Prices ranged from $240 for a Ruby Meaders devil face jug with a slight chip to the Lanier candelabrum previously mentioned at $7440.

A stamped “G. E. OHR, Biloxi, MS” small vase with a rim chip cataloged as “minor” brought only $660. Bidders perceived the flaw as more significant than described.

Noticeably weak pottery lots were works by Billy Ray Hussey and Burlon B. Craig. Hussey’s sculptural forms have been consistently strong in many recent sales but not in this one. A Hussey lion sold for a weak $300. Among the nine Craig lots were a simple vase at $90 (the lowest price) and a three-gallon face jug for $840 (the highest). Only a three-color swirl vase made the estimate, selling for $750.

Works by artists generally considered to be the folk art masters included half a dozen by Clementine Hunter, 13 by Howard Finster, four by Sam Doyle, five by Sister Gertrude Morgan, three by Minnie Evans, and four by Nellie Mae Rowe.

While most Hunters were typical scenes and sizes, a particularly early (1940) watercolor, paint, and pencil on paper, It Was a Day in Spring When I Painted This,broke out of the pack, reaching $6840. Saturday Night Juke Joint, anoil on canvas panel, was close behind at $6000.   

Alarge (4' square) Howard Finster Vision of Mary’s Angel with all pertinent information noted on the work, including signature, date of October 14, 1987, title, and number (6000.908), sold in house for $51,600.

Unusually strong groups of tramp art and African-American subjects along with three weathervanes and 11 trade signs drew strong on-line and telephone bidding. Thirty-six lots of tramp art included 24 frames and a dozen boxes. A felt-lined lock box with key sold for only $60 on line, and a large frame with a mirror decorated with hearts and diamonds topped with a cross was the highest-priced example at $2280. The most unusual tramp art item was a star-shaped frame with circular opening. It brought $720 on the phones. Many of the tramp art items had minor losses, not unusual for this form.

A life-size (5'6") African-American doll sold for $7800, and a pair of primitive dolls formed of wax brought only $60. A painted Plexiglas sign for Chicago’s “Black Bunnie Lounge” reached $1440, and an unusual candle sconce in the form of a carved wood black arm with clenched fist brought $900.

Folk art is a genre that still offers work by previously unknown artists. Most Slotin sales call such finds “discoveries.” Martin Dean Coppinger (b. 1934) of Phoenix, Arizona, is a Vietnam veteran known as the “van Gogh of the Desert.” Nine framed oil paintings featured desert landscapes in vivid colors. The prices ranged from $60 for Geronimo to $1800 for Picacho Peak.

This sale also included the discovery of carved wood forms by Mr. Benjamin, an African-American wood carver from Monticello, Georgia. Done in the 1930’s, ’40’s, and ’50’s, most feature a man in some rural environment or activity. Homestead is a house with multiple weathervanes, men, and a dog. It brought $1920. The lowest price for a Benjamin lot was $390 for Dressed to the Nines Cowboy.

Philip Chabot carved wood plaque-like figures and mounted them in custom hinged boxes. With seven to 23 figures in each box, they brought $600 for profiles of Indians and women to $1320 for a mix of animal forms and pinup ladies. Eight lots of this newly discovered artist’s work sold.

The last few Slotin sales have included a few objects from carnivals or circuses. An unusual group of 11 early black-and-white photos were offered in this sale. Most were scenes of crowds and banners at early 20th-century fairs and carnivals. Prices went from only $30 for a photo of a crowd in front of freak show banners to $300 for a group standing by a bull banner.

A single on-site bidder won almost every Haitian art lot in the spring 2013 sale. Although not on site for this sale, the same bidder, this time bidding by phone, again won almost all of the 40 lots of Haitian art. This included 29 paintings and 11 examples of pierced steel art. Prices ranged from $60 for Jackson Louinsky’s oil on canvas Lady of the River to $1800 for Prefete Duffaut’s oil on canvas Fantasy Sea City.

Haitian cut-metal forms typically utilize oil drums as raw material. Gabriel Bien-Aime’s Boy & Girl was cut from a drum lid and brought $120. Cut from a drum’s side was Murat Brierre’s Nude with Head up Her Ass. It sold at $840 and was the most expensive Haitian offering.

As always, Slotin sales literally have something for everyone. Over 370 individual artists were listed in this sale with nearly every form of folk art represented. Prices ranged from only $12 for three lots to $51,600 for the Finster work. The vast majority of the lots sold for $500 (without buyer’s premium) or less.

Next up for Slotin is the spring sale, scheduled for April 26 and 27. Again, this will be a two-day affair with over 1000 lots. Something new for Slotin will be an unusual group of early blues music collectibles. About 150 lots, all from the estate of a lifetime collector, will be offered, including photographs, concert posters, books, records, and autographs of many early blues performers. Artists include Count Basie, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong, Thelonious Monk, B. B. King, Muddy Waters, and Pearl Bailey among others.

For more information, check the Web site ( or phone (770) 532-1115 or (404) 403-4244.

This anonymous 23" x 30" painting of a baseball game with black players and spectators brought $4800,  more than triple the high estimate of $1500. Steiner photo.

Sam Doyle’s paintings on found roofing tin always include one or more individuals actively doing something. Here Mr. Fool stands on his head, apparently showing off for the lady who is watching. The winning bidder was impressed enough to pay $20,400. The image is 40" x 24".

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

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