PORTSMOUTH, N.H. – An extraordinary American 19th-century wooden walking stick, only the second to be attributed to the same African American carver, hammered for $120,000 against an estimate of $50,000-$80,000 during Guyette & Deeter’s August 8-9 Summer Decoy and Sporting Auction. Absentee and Internet live bidding was facilitated through LiveAuctioneers.
The first wooden walking stick attributed to Henry Gudgell, an enslaved man who was freed after the Civil War and settled in Missouri, is in the collection of the Yale University Art Gallery. In a fall 2008 issue of Folk Art magazine, Allan Weiss described his discovery of the walking stick, his hunch that it was the work of Gudgell, and the 20-year quest to prove his hunch.
The light hardwood walking stick presented at Guyette & Deeter shared motifs and details with the one in the Yale collection. It boasts spiral fluting that is interrupted by two plain bands; further down, it is encircled by a diamond pattern; and it features carvings of a lizard, a tortoise, and a snake that winds its body around the shaft of the stick. Gudgell was not a carver by trade, but his work as a wheelwright, a blacksmith, and a smith of silver and copper provided him with the knowledge needed to produce the walking stick.
Offered alongside the object was a raft of documentation that included a photograph of Gudgell’s great-granddaughter holding the walking stick and the deed to the 22 acres of land Gudgell purchased in 1870.