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Press Release: William Edmondson “Preacher” Commands $540,000 at Case

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 Saturday, Jan. 25 and Sunday, Jan. 26 at the company’s main gallery in Knoxville, Tennessee. The packed room of live attendees -and an even larger audience online- watched intently as eight phone bidders battled their way to $540,000. 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” 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.” 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), while a collection of mid-20th century Clementine Hunter paintings sold between $2,048 and $8,400 depending on size and complexity of composition; the highest selling painting depicted vignettes from Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

A pair of oval China Trade paintings attributed to Namcheong (Chinese, active 1840-1870) of trade ships at the Whampoa Anchorage, sailed to $7,680, while a 19th century John G. Brown portrait of a young girl brought $6,144. A portrait of U.S. Vice President and South Carolina Senator John C. Calhoun, believed to have been painted shortly after his 1850 death by artist Thomas B. Welch, competed to $3,840, and a self-portrait by modern day Rembrandt follower David Leffel brought $5,888.

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, which attracted a large crowd of jewelry buyers. Brightest of the bling was a 4.18 carat diamond solitaire pendant (VVS2, E) at $78,000 (est. $42,000-48,000) and a 4.85 ct 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 ct. old European brilliant cut diamond ring in vintage platinum setting, also GIA certified, earned $28,800 apiece. Emeralds brought the green in more ways than one: a 5.4 carat emerald in diamond and 18k setting rocketed past its $2,000-2,500 estimate to $23,040, and a platinum bracelet with 7 carats worth of emeralds and 8 carats in diamonds wrapped up $19,200. A 13-carat t.w. diamond tennis bracelet served up $14,400, while a 6-carat t.w. bangle bracelet made $7,680 and a 2.13 ct. mine cut diamond solitaire ring (VS1, K) hit $10,200. A pair of 18k Buccellati ruby cuff links from the estate of late U.S. Ambassador to Denmark, Guilford Dudley, earned $4,864 and a Roberto Coin 18k mesh and diamond bracelet realized $4,096. There was good demand for both men’s and ladies estate timepieces. A ladies Patek Philippe Aquanaut wristwatch finished at $7,680, as did a men’s 18K yellow gold Patek Phillipe watch with mesh strap, while a ladies Patek Philippe Ellipse d’Or watch with red crocodile strap sold for $5,120, the same price as an 18k men’s Vacheron Constantin Geneve watch with black leather strap. A men’s Rolex Oyster Perpetual Datejust wristwatch ticked to $3,200 and an antique 18k Waltham pocketwatch wound up at $2,280.

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 fish tail 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 huntboard-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. There were several Southern sugar chests in the auction; the top seller was a Federal walnut piece with tapered square legs attributed to Virginia or the Carolinas; it sweetened the sale at $4,608. 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 8 chairs, circa 1998, 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 very 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 and a two-gallon jug with outstanding alkaline glaze more than doubled its estimate at $3,240. A face jug attributed to H.F. Reinhart of North Carolina found a new home at $5,040 and a stoneware face jug with blue painted surface, attributed to James Otto Brown (Georgia/South Carolina, 1899-1980) sold for $2,760. A Lewis Miles Edgefield pottery jar, signed and dated 1857, brought $6,144, while an Edgefield stoneware jar with cobalt flower decoration earned $3,120. An East Tennessee stoneware jar impressed Grindstaff for William Grindstaff tripled its estimate at $3,240, and a rare set of Nonconnah pottery mugs and tankard, made in the Memphis area in the early 1900s, brought $3,840.

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 pair of small East Tennessee mountain views by William McCoy soared to $2,520 (est. $800-900) and an expressionist view of Chattanooga’s Walnut Street Bridge by George Cress reached $2,040. It was one of several works in the auction being deaccessioned by the Brooks Museum of Memphis. An early 20th century landscape of a waterfall in Yellowstone National Park by Lucien Powell sold for $3,840, a William Sonntag Hudson River forest scene brought $3,200, and an Impressionist spring landscape by Hamilton Hamilton (CT/CA, 1847-1926) blossomed at $3,600.

Four mid-20th century Paris scenes by Lucien Delarue in both watercolor and oil ranged from $840-$2,160 depending on the medium and size. A Walt Disney signed animation cel from the 1942 movie Bambi, with hand painted background, was the star of a single owner collection of Disney animation art at $4,352, and a cel depicting Briar Rose with birds landed at $3,840. In the print category, a Grant Wood lithograph titled “January,” reached $4,352 and an Audubon print of an Iceland or Jer Falcon from the Bien edition, 1860, flew to $3,240. An Inuit print by Kenojuak Ashevak titled “Rudu in my Dreams” rested at $2,560.

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-General 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, while four 19th century photographs from the Mears family of North Carolina, including one of CSA soldier George Augustus Mears, rallied to $3,240 (Mears home is now a historic site in Asheville, NC). A mid 20th century tabletop joint model of the Von Braun Jupiter C and Explorer 1 model rockets soared to $7,680, while an early motorized rocket model hit $1,560; both were bought by the consignor several years ago when they were deaccessioned from the George C. Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Two lots of World War II propaganda posters referencing the Tennessee Valley Authority’s electric and water power charged to $5,040 and $3,840 (for groupings of three and two, respectively), and a land grant signed by first Tennessee governor John Sevier, referencing land in the yet-to-be named Maury County finished at $1,536. An American Liverpool jug with decoration of a frigate flying a 16-star flag (for the admission of Tennessee into the Union in 1796) sailed to $1,440.

Standouts in the silver category included a tea caddy with mixed metal, Japanese decoration retailed by Liberty of London, sold together with a Chinese metal-mounted tea pot, at $4,864, and a Chinese Export silver three piece tea service, $2,432. 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. A Whiting Art Nouveau sterling golf trophy finished at $2,160, and set of 9 International matching mint julep cups, dating from the early to mid 20th century, brought $2,688. A 180-piece set of Kirk Repousse sterling flatware, service for twelve, finished at $3,600 and a group of 52 Kirk Repousse flat serving pieces sold for $1,920 while a set of 8 Kirk sterling charger plates reached $2,160. A George III sterling tray with marks for Robert and Daniel Sharp, 1762, earned $2,048 and a circular sterling centerpiece frame with four paw form feet by Rebecca Emes and Edward Barnard of London, 1813, supporting a glass bowl, hit $1,920.

Ceramic and glass highlights included a 69-piece service of Herend porcelain for $4,096 and a Meissen centerpiece with figural courting couple, $2,520. A Tiffany “Aladdin” lamp with Damascene shade glowed at $3,360 despite a crack to the glass and a 23-piece set of St. Louis Thistle Pattern crystal stemware made $3,200. A set of Tiffany Favrile art glass cordials and carafe earned $1,792 while a Tiffany cylindrical art glass vase in bronze sleeve base, #715, sold for $1,536. A Newcomb College vase with paperwhite decoration by Anna Francis Simpson sold for $1,560 and a Fulper art pottery vase in the form of a green pepper with flambe green glaze brought $1,152.

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; a Chinese Republic period porcelain plaque with grisaille snow scene decoration attributed to He Xuren, $5,040; a pair of ormolu mounted marble urns by Raingo Freres, Paris, $2,400; and a 19th century burlwood bowl, 16” diameter, $1,200.

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 and 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 .

Sarah Campbell Drury
Vice President of Fine and Decorative Arts
Case Antiques Inc., Auctions & Appraisals
(615) 812-6096 Nashville
(865) 558-3033 Knoxville