Material Culture celebrates folk art extravaganza May 26
PHILADELPHIA – Material Culture is celebrating the spirit, animation and theatricality of folk, self-taught and ethnographic arts in its May 26 auction, “Folk Out Loud.” Featuring over 300 lots, the sale will provide an exciting mix of art and artifacts from around the world, from paintings by important self-taught artists, to African tribal art, to American cigar store Indians. Objects at the auction nearly encompass the history of folk art, with pre-historic to 12th century to 21st century artifacts being presented for sale. The auction will begin promptly at 11 a.m. EDT, on Sunday, May 26. Liveauctioneers provides an online catalog and Internet live bidding at the time of the sale.
One of the highlights in self-taught art is a masterpiece by American artist Purvis Young (1943-2010). The large untitled piece known as Father of the Peoples, an assemblage with house paint on wood, dates to 1991, and is estimated to sell for $50,000 to $75,000. Measuring 52 inches by 100 inches, the painting centers on a haloed figure robed in shades of white and cream, arms stretching upwards. Expressive faces touched with hues of red, brown and white, some of them also haloed, appear around the frame. From the Overtown section of Miami, Fla., Young is famous for blending the African American experience in the south with his private study of the masters of art history in his paintings, collages and found media artwork. He began drawing as a teenager during a period spent in prison, and his move to painting was initially inspired by the mural movements of other large cities. His work, which shows the influence of Youngʼs private study of Rembrandt, El Greco, van Gogh, Gaugin and Picasso, attracted the attention of Bernard Davis, owner of the Miami Art Museum, and eventually the praise of collectors and institutions around the country. Today, his pieces appear in many museums, including the High Museum in Atlanta, the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Corcoran Gallery of Arts in Washington, D.C., the American Folk Art Museum in Atlanta, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, amongst others.
The auction also showcases a number of other pieces by Purvis Young, including two early dated portraits (1973), which show, from the shoulders up, a haloed figure. In one, measuring 18.75 inches by 22 inches by 2 inches with the frame, the haloed figure is additionally distinguished by a beret. The other measures 19.5 inches by 21.5 inches by 2 inches, including its frame. Both are estimated to bring $8,000-$12,000. The third piece, a portrayal of five figures titled Chain gang, dates to 2000. This work of paint on found bonded industrial fabric measures 33.25 inches by 35.5 by 1.5 inches, and is estimated to sell for $1,000-$2,000.
Another highlight of the sale includes an important work by Sister Gertrude Morgan (1900-1980), titled New Jerusalem. A preacher, missionary, musician and poet who worked in New Orleans, Sister Gertrude is now known primarily for her folk art. Brightly colored and joyous, her paintings and drawings depict religious scenes, inspired by the Book of Revelations, illustrations of her sermons, or other conceptualizations of a Biblical idea. According to the American Museum of Folk Art, which holds some of her work, her vision of a New Jerusalem is her most important theme. This painting, measuring 22 inches by 14 inches, bears many of the hallmarks of Morganʼs representation of the New Jerusalem, including multi-storied houses, flowering trees and a sky arrayed with angels of many ethnicities. Sister Morgan frequently appeared within her own work, and the figure dressed in white standing in front of the building, just to the left of center, is likely a depiction of the artist. Around 1957, Sister Morgan received a revelation that she was to become the “bride of Christ,” and thereafter she dressed only in white. Her many revelations throughout her life included one in 1974 that instructed her to move away from painting and devote herself to poetry, and in later life she produced text-only pieces. Text is frequently an integral part of her work in the decades prior, however; this painting bears an inscription in the blue and white of the sky above the building, reading “that great ship is landing,” “paradise” and “get on board.” The piece is estimated to sell for $20,000-$30,000.
Other art at the auction includes a serigraph by American artist Shepard Fairey (born 1970). A portrait of Woody Guthrie, the serigraph is dated 2010 and in a signed and numbered edition of 450, estimated to sell for $500-700. Fairey is an influential street artist, most famous for his Barack Obama “Hope” poster of the 2008 election, and his “Obey” posters featuring the face of Andre the Giant. His work appears in the collections of the Smithsonian and the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, among others. A rare cameo glass vase designed by Louisiana artist George Rodrigue (born 1944) bears the artistʼs signature “Blue Dog,” a large-eared spaniel with yellow eyes. Produced by the Pilgrim Glass Co. in a limited edition—the underside is etched “XX/35”—the vase is estimated to sell for $7,000-10,000.
Sculpture at the auction includes a mixedmedia duck figure made by Leo Sewell (born 1945), an American found object artist. Sewell describes himself as a “junk sculptor,” creating representational sculpture using an assemblage of recycled materials, such as, in the case of this Duck Sculpture, scissors, belt buckles, and a toy car, among hundreds of other pieces. The sculpture is estimated to sell for $1,000-2,000.
Ethnographic art at the sale includes several pieces from the Bill Liske Collection of Antique Tibetan and Chinese Textiles and Artifacts, the harvest of three decades of Liskeʼs travel and work in the Himalayan region. Originally a mountaineer and guide, Liskeʼs natural eye for textiles was honed by textile dealers in the area. In 1998, he curated an exhibition of his work titled “From the Heart of a Continent: Carpets and Textiles of the Tibetan Realm,” in his home state of Colorado, at the History Museum in Denver. Pieces from his collection have also been shown at the Krimsa Gallery in San Francisco, the Shaver-Ramsey Gallery in Denver, and in Hali magazine. One of the most remarkable pieces from his collection to appear in this sale is a Buddhist manuscript cover dating to the 12th-13th centuries. Made of wood and bearing traces of paint, the cover features Amoghasiddhi, the last of the Five Wisdom Buddhas of the Vajrayana tradition of Buddhism, flanked by scrolling vines. The name “Amoghasiddhi” means “unfailing success,” and, as the Buddha of accomplishing wisdom, he is identified by the hand gesture symbolizing fearlessness. What is unique about this particular portrayal is the altered “fear not” hand position of Amoghassidhi, with the left hand, and not right hand, lifted, while the right hand is draped across the knees, not placed in the lap. This Tibetan piece is strikingly similar in size, style and composition to the Metropolitan Museum’s Budhhist Manuscript cover with Buddha Shakyamuni flanked by Manjushri and Vajrapani (accession # 1987.407.6), dated as early 12th century. It is estimated to sell for $3,000-$5,000.
A Tibetan thangka scroll painting, also depicting Amoghasiddhi, likely dates to the late 16th century, and shows the Buddha in the more commonly seen mudra, with the right hand in the “fear not” position. Backed by a field of miniature Buddhas with its original hand-loomed cotton and linen border, this 43 inch by 21 inch thangka is estimated to bring $1,500-$2,500. Leading Tibetan carpets at the sale is a temple rug or Khagangma meditation square dating to the 19th century. A red quadrant design marches across a blue-green field, with blue plied wool fringe. The rug is estimated to sell for $1,500-2,500.
Items from the Max Garb Collection of Ethnographic Arts, subject of its own auction at Material Culture on April 28, include an eccentric African power or fetish figure complete with real pelts, bones and skulls. Made by the Songye people of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the figure measures 43 inches by 15 inches by 12 inches, and is estimated to bring $1,000-$2,000. African tribal art is well-represented at sale, with another outstanding collection of top-rate artifacts coming to auction from a Main Line Philadelphia estate. Of particular note is a fine helmet mask made by the Mende people of Sierra Leone. This dark, polished mask of carved wood likely dates to the early 20th century and is estimated to sell for $1,000-$2,000. Fine carving is particularly apparent below the faceʼs eyes and ornamenting the base of its crest. Another helmet mask, made by the Dogon people of Mali, employs a more raw state of its carved wood in giving the mask its character. Also dating to the early 20th century, this 16-inch by 8-inch by 8-inch mask is estimated to sell for $600-900. A wooden staff made by the Yoruba people, who predominantly live in Nigeria, represents the god Shango or Sango, known as the god of lightning, thunder and fire. Shangoʼs weapon is double-headed ax, seen at the top of the staff, and the figure below it may be a devotee of Shango struggling to maintain self-control, one possible purpose of religious rituals for the god. The staff was probably carved in the early 20th century, and, measuring 22 inches by 8 inches by 4 inches, is estimated to sell for $1,000-1,500. Other notable pieces from this collection include a wood figure carved by the Lobi people of Ghana, and, from the lower Sepik River area of New Guinea, a carved wood figure sporting cowrie shell eyes.
A significant portion of the sale consists of folk art from the United States and around the globe. Leading this category are two fine cigar store Indian statues. One is attributed to John L. Cromwell (1805-1873), who is credited as being one of the first carvers of these kinds of figures to arrive from England. Standing an impressive 87 inches tall, the statue dates to circa 1850 and shows the male figure with a hatchet raised in his right hand. Though these hand-carved statues were once frequent sights in front of 19th century cigar stores, original examples are now rare and highly collectible due to the resurgent popularity of cigars and related memorabilia. The John L. Cromwell cigar store statue is estimated to sell for $75,000-125,000. The second statue presents a variation on this form, with a cigar store Indian maiden by Thomas by Thomas V. Brooks (1826-1895), estimated to bring $50,000-80,000 at auction. Measuring 85 inches by 25 inches 25.5 inches, this brightly attired maiden holds up a set of cigars. Brooks was a student of John Cromwell; along with Samuel Anderson Robb and the Skillin family, Cromwell and Brooks are considered the most prominent cigar store Indian craftsmen of the 19th century. The folklore about cigar store Indians in the late 18th century suggests that they provided a visual marker, much like a barberʼs striped pole, for customers who were illiterate, or, in the following century, for the swelling population of immigrants that spoke different languages.
Another highlight of American folk art at the auction is a weather vane made by the Boston manufacturer Harris and Co., dating to circa 1890. A horse depicting the trotter Black Hawk made of copper with zinc ears, the weather vane has a patina of green verdigris on the surface, consistent with its age. It measures 25.5 inches by 19 inches by 1.5 inches and is valued at $3,000-5,000. Also from the George and Sue Viener collection are two face jugs by Lanier Meaders (1917-1998), both made of glazed ceramic. The face jugs at auction are each valued at $1,000-1,500.
The auction also features a panoply of folk and popular art surprises from roadsides around the world, including folk signage and hand-painted advertisements, found objects and African folk art coffins. A mid-century palmist sign made of painted wood, reading “Ora-Lee” at top, stands 96 inches high. Electrified and in full working condition, it is estimated to sell for $2,000-3,000. Another American sign advertises a “Snake Preview” of a carnival act involving “Hugh and Sue,” and is estimated to bring $400-600. An Arabic sign in the shape of a bottle-cap advertises Pepsi, likely to sell for $300-500. An African medical stand from a roadside, complete with its accoutrements, is estimated at a $400-800 value. Fantasy coffins from Ghana include those in the shape of a hammer and a beer bottle. Folk sculptures such as a mid-20th century painted wood carving of a hand holding aloft a Bible from West Africa demonstrate much of the spirit and originality of the assembly.
View the fully illustrated catalog and sign up to bid absentee or live via the Internet at www.LiveAuctioneers.com.
View the fully illustrated catalog and register to bid absentee or live via the Internet as the sale is taking place by logging on to www.LiveAuctioneers.com.
ADDITIONAL LOTS OF NOTE