KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – A William Edmondson limestone sculpture, depicting a preacher with Bible raised in his left hand, captivated the crowd at the Winter Case Antiques Auction, held Jan. 25-26. The packed room of live attendees – and an even larger audience online – watched intently as eight phone bidders battled their way to $540,000. Absentee and Internet live bidding was available through LiveAuctioneers.
It was the second-highest auction price ever paid for a sculpture by Edmondson (1874-1951), a self-taught artist whose subjects were often inspired by people in his Nashville community, and who in 1937 became the first African American artist to have a solo exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art. The “Preacher” (above) is also believed to be the most expensive piece of sculpture ever auctioned in Tennessee. The consignors are private Southern collectors who acquired the sculpture more than 30 years ago from the family of Myron King, a Nashville art dealer and one of Edmondson’s early patrons. The new owner is an individual who also wished to remain anonymous.
Company president John Case said the bidding pool represented nearly every region of the U.S and that at least one international suitor was among the bidders, reflecting a growing recognition of Edmondson’s contribution to the field of 20th-century sculpture.
The 1,060-lot auction also set a world auction record for Tennessee artist Carroll Cloar, with a private collector paying $66,000 for a 1986 acrylic on canvas pointillist painting titled The Landlady (below).
A Southern museum beat out eight other phone bidders to win a rare 18th-century mezzotint engraving by John Faber of Native American Creek leader Tomochaci Mico, king of the Yamacraw, and his young nephew for $22,800. Demand was heightened because the print was after an original portrait by William Verelst, which is now lost.
A small, sensitive late 19th-century portrait by Gilbert Gaul of a black woman sewing stitched up $14,400 (est. $3,000-$4,000).
This auction sparkled with an array of diamonds from the estate of Dr. Sara Park Pendleton of Kentucky and Dr. and Mrs. Joseph Lavecchia of Chattanooga, Tenn., which attracted a large crowd of jewelry buyers. Brightest of the bling was a 4.18-carat diamond solitaire pendant (below) at $78,000 (est. $42,000-48,000) and a 4.85-carat round diamond ring (SI1, F) at $66,000 (est. $26,000-30,000). Both diamonds were GIA certified and came from the Pendleton estate. A 5.7 ct. diamond ring from the Lavecchia estate and a 5.2-carat old European brilliant-cut diamond ring in a vintage platinum setting, also GIA certified, earned $28,800 apiece.
There was good demand for both men’s and women’s estate timepieces. A women’s Patek Philippe Aquanaut wristwatch finished at $7,680, as did a men’s 18K yellow gold Patek Phillipe watch with a mesh strap.
Outstanding examples of furniture fared well, led by a Chippendale corner cupboard from Tennessee’s earliest known cabinetmaker, Moses Crawford of Knox County (1743-1819). The exceptionally early glazed-door piece had a scallop-carved cornice and distinctive fishtail spur returns at the skirt. Bidders were able to overlook the disclosed restorations including a likely mid-section reconfiguration which had kept the estimate conservative ($3,000-3,400); it ultimately soared to $21,760. A very rare 19th-century hunt board-form East Tennessee beaten biscuit table made a lot of dough at $13,200 (est. $2,000-2,400) and a circa 1820 Luman Watson tall case clock with case attributed to Elijah Warner of Kentucky struck $6,600.
Certain contemporary pieces also excelled: a Philip and Kelvin Laverne “Eternal Forest” pattern bronze coffee table, circa 1970, delivered $16,640, and a Stickley Mission-style dining table and eight chairs, realized $8,400.
Southern pottery is a staple at Case. This sale featured several examples from North Carolina potter Daniel Seagle, whose work rarely appears on the market. A large 8-gallon Seagle jug with unusual double handles competed to $9,000, while an even larger 10-gallon jar with lug handles came in at $6,600. A face jug attributed to H.F. Reinhart of North Carolina found a new home at $5,040 and a stoneware face jug with a blue painted surface, attributed to James Otto Brown (Georgia/South Carolina, 1899-1980) sold for $2,760.
There was strong interest in regional landscapes from the late 19th to mid 20th centuries. Two 9” x 19” landscapes by Harvey Joiner of Kentucky competed to $5,632 and $5,376, while three Indiana landscapes by William McKendree Snyder ranged from $2,640 to $5,120 and an Indiana autumn landscape by Carl Krafft earned $2,160.
A Civil War guidon that descended in the family of Cpl. Marcellus Messer of the 19th Ohio Infantry flew to the top of the historical category at $20,480. An Abraham Lincoln- signed document appointing Green Clay of Kentucky to a diplomatic post in Russia in 1861, countersigned by William Seward, rose to $9,600.
A pair of flintlock pistols with a history of having been captured by then-Gen. Andrew Jackson from Robert Ambrister and Alexander Arbuthnot, accused of helping the Seminoles during the First Seminole War, shot to $7,800. A scarce 1866 Matthew Brady photograph of Robert E. Lee with inscription “to the editors of Harper’s Weekly with compliments Brady & Co.” hammered at $5,120.
Three 19th century coin silver mint julep cups from a Tennessee plantation owned by distant relatives of George Washington sold for $3,456. All had engraved crests similar to those on silver at Mount Vernon but bore marks indicating they were made or sold in Tennessee or Kentucky. A coin silver water pitcher marked for John Kitts of Louisville made $2,280.
There were audible gasps in the saleroom as a small glass bottle of colored sand, painstakingly arranged in a patriotic eagle and banner design on one side and wreath with date “1889” on the other, climbed to $66,000. The rare bottle was made by deaf artisan Andrew Clemens (1857-1894) using naturally colored sand from the Pictured Rocks area in his home state of Iowa. Even with a chipped stopper, this lot attracted a full bank of phone bidders. Other notable lots included a rare West Tennessee sampler made by Mary Jane Russell in 1837, which more than doubled its estimate at $10,200.
This was the company’s first two-day auction, and company president John Case said the format was so successful that the Summer Auction will also be a two-day event. The date has been set for July 11-12, and the company is currently accepting consignments for that sale. For more information, contact the company’s headquarters in Knoxville at 865-558-3033 or the consignment offices in Nashville 615-812-6096 or Kingsport 865-310-7718 or at firstname.lastname@example.org .