Ledbetter Folk Art and Americana Auction, Gibsonville, North Carolina
Photos courtesy Ledbetter Folk Art and Americana Auction
Most of the artists represented in Matt Ledbetter’s second sale, December 12, 2020, were Outsiders. Some were homeless, several were black, and most were self-taught and now deceased. If French artist Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985) were alive, he would applaud Ledbetter’s choices. Outsider artists, he felt, had a more authentic, instinctual, and passionate approach to art than those classically trained.
Outsider art was what the 20 socially distant, masked bidders who attended the sale came to buy. They were pleased that a southern folk-art auction has taken root in North Carolina.
As in Ledbetter’s first sale (see M.A.D., August 2020, p. 58), Benny Carter (1943-2014) had a starring role. South Carolina antiques dealer Ron Causey, who attended the sale, consigned the top two Carter lots, both of them New York City-centric paintings. A 36" x 36" signed but untitled New York City scene with hundreds of taxicabs, Sam’s Art Gallery, the Hotel Carter, and a hairless Statue of Liberty went to an Internet bidder for $2214 (with buyer’s premium); it was estimated at $2000/4000. Causey said the painting came from the personal collection of auctioneer Kimball Sterling of Johnson City, Tennessee. A 30" x 36" New York City scene with a massive gray skyscraper in the center surrounded by taxis and four blocks of Carter-named buildings sold to an Internet bidder for $2091 (est. $2000/4000). Ledbetter put this image on the free T-shirts he offered attendees and on the cover of the sale’s brochure.
The second-highest lot in the sale was this circa 1860 yellow pine blanket chest in original blue-green paint with bracket feet. The right foot had broken off some time ago and was subsequently reattached, hence the difference in color. The motto of the Confederate States, “DEO VINDICE,” is lettered on the front of the 21" x 36" x 14½" chest. It sold in house for $2645 (est. $4000/8000).
Unlike at his first sale, where everything came from Ledbetter’s personal collection, this time many lots were consignments. That included a yellow pine blanket chest with Civil War paint decoration. “I’m expecting the chest to cause an earthquake in Gibsonville when it comes up for sale,” said Ledbetter before the sale. On the front of the blue-green-painted chest were the words “COLUMBIA S.C.” flanked by bursting bombs. Above was “DEO VINDICE” (with God as our protector), the motto of the Confederate States. The chest sold for $2645 (est. $4000/8000) to Greensboro, North Carolina, antiques dealer David Kane bidding for a client.
Matt Ledbetter described the sale’s top lot as a “wonderful chest on frame with great size.” The 47" x 39" x 20½" walnut case has three sets of side-by-side drawers in a frame with long cabriole legs. It sold for $3162.50 (est. $2000/4000).
The sale’s top lot was an exception to the folk-art emphasis. No one on site participated in the short, intense chase for an early 19th-century walnut chest on frame from the North Carolina Piedmont. With three sets of side-by-side drawers set in a frame with cabriole legs and modified trifid feet, the chest and frame sold to a phone bidder for $3162.50 (est. $2000/4000).
Because pottery made up 40% of the sale, Ledbetter described his plan for the day as “pottery, something else, pottery, something else.” The top pottery lots were from Georgia, where the Meaders family rules. Two similar alkaline-glaze face jugs by Lanier Meaders (1917-1998) were side by side in the lot number lineup. The key difference between them was that one had stone teeth and the other had clay teeth. That seemingly subtle difference may have contributed to a rather sizable difference in price. The 11" high Lanier Meaders jug with stone teeth brought $2029.50 (est. $1500/$2000), while the one with clay teeth, also 11", sold for $1014.75 (est. $1000/1100). Lanier’s younger brother “Nub” took second place among the high-dollar pottery lots with a black chicken that brought $1968. The Lanier and “Nub” Meaders pieces went to Internet bidders.
Each tin on the front and sides of this South Carolina pie safe is one and a half tins wide. You can see the welding seam in this photo. This well-used folky 52" tall pie safe sold for $2300 (est. $1500/2000). Prunkl photo.
Two pie safes deserve special attention. A yellow pine pie safe from Columbia, South Carolina, on long 15" legs with hints of red paint and worn, rusty tins was the sale’s third-priciest lot at $2300 (est. $1500/2000). The legs extended its overall height to 52". A second pie safe from either Virginia or North Carolina was shorter at 44" and constructed from walnut and poplar with white over green paint. The shorter chest had blind sides while the South Carolina chest had tins on three sides. Betsy Murray, an antiques dealer with shops in Clemmons and Winston-Salem, North Carolina, bought the shorter chest for $833.75 (est. $800/1200). She was perhaps the most active on-site buyer.
In both of his auction ads in M.A.D., Matt Ledbetter featured a photo of a 34" long cane with three carved and painted bathing beauties. Of the 35 cane lots in the sale, nothing came close to the $1845 (est. $2000/4000) an Internet bidder paid for the circa 1910 cane.
During the preview, longtime antiques dealer Mike Johnson of Fort Mill, South Carolina, examined a 34½" long folk-art cane with an alligator carved into the handle. He was the successful bidder at $115 (est. $100/200). Prunkl photo.
Ledbetter brings a refreshing enthusiasm to the podium. He enjoys everything about in-person auctions—the loud talking, the bidding wars, the high prices he wins for his consignors, and the sheer excitement of bringing folk art to his tiny hometown of Gibsonville, North Carolina. He showers his attendees with freebies—beer, wine, sandwiches, chicken wings, candy, T-shirts, and postcards. He knows and loves folk art and wants to educate his audience about each Outsider artist represented. He encourages everyone to buy now before prices rise. All that enthusiasm, education, and encouragement takes time. This was an eight-hour sale of 471 lots with clusters of high-dollar lots every 100 lots. It could have moved a bit faster.
As in his first sale, most of the lots in the December sale went to Internet bidders. That is not what Ledbetter wants going forward. His long-term goal, as stated in the sale’s color brochure, is to have 90% of the Outsider art sold in house to local collectors.
COVID-19 fear contributed to the low attendance at the December sale. Many of those who scheduled a private preview told Ledbetter they would be bidding on the phone or via LiveAuctioneers.
Ledbetter plans to have his third folk-art sale on June 12. Specialized sales may be scheduled between now and then. For more information on sales or consignments, visit his website (www.ledbetterauctions.com) or call (336) 524-1077.
Auctioneer Matt Ledbetter, 38, posed with his Stacy Lambert figure of an auctioneer. Ledbetter’s family and crew helped keep the eight-hour sale running smoothly. Prunkl photo.
In 2007 Edwin “Nub” Meaders (1921-2015) formed this 16" high black chicken with blue glaze runs out of red Georgia clay. He was Lanier Meaders’s younger brother. His chicken made it to the sale’s top ten lots at $1968 (est. $800/1200).
For years Stacy Lambert worked in a factory and produced his unique brand of figural pottery on the side. Since 2011 he has been a full-time, successful, and popular potter in Asheboro, North Carolina. Of the 11 Lambert works in the sale, his 18" high alligator man did best at $522.75 (est. $600/900).
Jimmy Lee Sudduth (1910-2007) signed this 24" x 24" portrait across its chest. His early paintings were done with his fingers on found objects. He later switched to acrylics applied with a sponge brush. This painting sold to an Internet bidder for $984 (est. $800/1200).
Artist Richard Burnside (1944-2020) died two months before the Ledbetter sale. This 24" x 24" example of his work, one of four Burnside paintings in the sale, sold to an Internet bidder for $861 (est. $500/800). Burnside had a solo exhibition at the McKissick Museum at the University of South Carolina in 2016.
Todd Larson of Kernersville, North Carolina, attended the sale with his friend Phillip Fulton. During the preview, Larson examined two tall pottery figures of a black man and woman by Marvin Bailey (b. 1960). Larson won the 24" tall male figure for $138. The 25" female figure with a basket of chickens on her head sold to the Internet for $295.20. Each was estimated at $300/600. Prunkl photo.
This is a closeup of one of three female forms in bathing suits carved into a 34" long walking stick. Suits, faces, arms, and legs were painted on the cane, which dates from the first decades of the 20th century. It sold for $1845 (est. $2000/4000).
At the sale of the Benny Carter collection in 2014 (see M.A.D., August 2014, p. 16-C), my wife purchased a whirligig by folk artist Vollis Simpson (1919-2013) that now stands in our backyard garden. This 26" x 13" example by Simpson with two boat propellers and a North Carolina lighthouse sold to an Internet bidder for $1353 (est. $200/400). When in Wilson, North Carolina, be sure to visit the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park, where 30 of his giant colorful restored whirligigs are on display.
This 11" high alkaline-glaze face jug with stone teeth by Lanier Meaders (1917-1998) sold for $2029.50 (est. $1500/2000). A similar 11" Lanier Meaders face jug with clay teeth (not shown) sold for $1014.75 (est. $1000/1500).
Mose Tolliver (1925-2006) signed his paintings “Mose T” with the “s” turned backward. That was how this undated 22" x 28" (with frame) work with house paint on board was signed. It sold to a bidder on the Internet for $1845 (est. $800/1200).
This gorgeous 10" x 6" x 7" river cane basket with deep brown patina, possibly Cherokee or Shenandoah Valley, looked tight enough to hold water. Ledbetter dated it to circa 1940. It sold to an Internet bidder for $1107 (est. $800/1200).
Originally published in the March 2021 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2021 Maine Antique Digest