Finster, Ramirez, Hunter drive prices upward at Slotin self-taught art auction

Clementine Hunter, ‘Uncle in the Flower Garden,’ which sold for a hammer price of $16,500

Clementine Hunter, ‘Uncle Tom & Eliza in the Flower Garden,’ which sold for $20,625

BUFORD, Ga. – Two big names in the world of self-taught art, Martin Ramirez and Howard Finster, brought the biggest results in Slotin Folk Art Auction‘s Spring Self-Taught Art Masterpiece Sale on April 24. Overall, the sale was a barn-burner, with total revenues of $1.36 million, marking it as one of the auction house’s most successful sales in its nearly three decades of operation, approaching the $1.48 million record from November 2020’s Fall edition of the Self-Taught Masterpiece series.

Also remarkable was the number of records shattered for works by self-taught artists not usually listed on the leader board at Slotin or elsewhere. That included world-record sales results for the late Florida artist Frog Smith, for the painting Dowling Camp Mill at Slater, FL, which went for $17,500; Atlanta artist Lorenzo Scott’s Baptism of Jesus painting, which sold for $13,125; the late New York artist Daniel Pressley’s carved wood relief plaque Wait at the Water, which realized $11,875; and the late New York artist Rex Clawson’s Male Nude painting, which garnered $8,750. In all, works by at least a dozen artists commanded world record prices.

Howard Finster, ‘Angel of the Lord,’ which sold for $32,500

Howard Finster, ‘Angel of the Lord,’ which sold for $32,500

Steve Slotin, who co-owns and operates Slotin Folk Art Auction with his wife, Amy, also marveled at the “strong showing” by African American female artists from the South. Notable among them were the late Louisiana painter Clementine Hunter and the late Nellie Mae Rowe, the Georgia artist who drew, painted and created three-dimensional pieces. Works by Hunter achieved the auction’s fifth- and seventh-highest bids; Rowe, the sixth- and tenth-highest bids.

Slotin believes interest in the latter was boosted by Really Free: The Radical Art of Nellie Mae Rowe, the first major exhibition of the folk artist’s work in more than 20 years, due to open at Atlanta’s High Museum of Art on Sept. 3.

Speaking of growing bidder interest in Black folk artists from the South in general, Slotin said, “Because of the Black Lives Matter movement, we see a lot of attention being given to the pioneers, not just in the arts but across the African American community. This is all part of trying to correct longtime omissions. These artists and other leaders are finally getting recognized, and the history books are being rewritten.”

Adjusting to doing business amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Slotin Folk Art changed from its usual practice of auctioning roughly 1,000 lots in a two-day sale, with bidders overflowing the auction hall. As with last November’s auction, April’s sale was a one-day online affair via LiveAuctioneers.

Martin Ramirez, ‘Caballero,’ which sold for $46,250

Martin Ramirez, ‘Caballero,’ which sold for $46,250

The April 24 auction’s 409 lots emphasized quality over quantity, and buyers sought out blue chip pieces and were willing to fight for them. The auction’s highest bids were reserved for California artist Ramirez’s circa 1930s drawing Caballero, which realized $46,250; Georgia preacher-turned-artist Finster’s Angel of the Lord, from 1989, numbered #10,971, which commanded $32,500; Georgia painter Mattie Lou O’Kelley’s 1984 work Family Wagon Packed & Ready to Leave, which sold for $24,375; and Alabama painter Myrtice West’s undated Who Is Worthy to Open the Book, which also tallied $24,375. West’s painting was boosted by having served as the cover image of Carol Crown’s book Wonders to Behold: The Visionary Art of Myrtice West.

“Most of the buyers purchased a single item and reached for it, rather than buying a larger grouping of lower-priced items,” noted Amy Slotin.


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