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Press Release: African American Art Goes Through the Roof at Case’s July 11-12, 2020 Auction

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT:  Sarah Campbell Drury
(615) 812-6096
sarah@caseantiques.com
www.caseantiques.com

KNOXVILLE, Tenn.— African American works of art, including sculpture by William Edmondson and Augusta Savage and two important quilts, blazed past their estimates to become the major storyline of the day at the Summer Case Antiques Auction, held July 11-12 in Knoxville, TN. But it was a day of multiple subplots, with headline-worthy results across multiple categories; a limited and “sold-out,” reservation-only live audience, accompanied by over 7,000 people placing online, absentee and phone bids; and an auction sales total finishing 20% above the high estimate with 95% of the lots sold.

“There’s no doubt, many individuals and institutions are racing to close gaps in their collections,” said company president John Case, referring to the success of works by Black artists in this auction. “The good news is there’s an abundance of great African American art, especially here in the South. We’ve been offering it since this company started over fifteen years ago, and it’s gratifying to see more collectors and institutions joining in our excitement about these works.”

He pointed to William Edmondson, the Tennessee sculptor who became the first African American artist to have a solo exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art. Case has sold eight Edmondson sculptures in the past five years, including one now in MOMA’s permanent collection, and two which have topped $250,000 in the past year alone. Both of those had exhibition histories and were larger than this auction’s “Lady with a Book,” factors reflected in the limestone sculpture’s modest $40,000-$44,000 estimate. But the “Lady” raced to $144,000, hammering to an anonymous individual on the phone, while an Edmondson limestone “Critter” tripled its estimate to reach $66,000, despite some chips to the base (est. $18,000-22,000). (All prices in this report include the buyer’s premium).        

The masked and socially distanced audience broke out in applause when a Depression era “TVA quilt” crushed its $2,000-3,000 estimate to hit $50,400. The textile depicted a black man with a guitar, torn between the hands of a woman and Uncle Sam, in a silhouetted style reminiscent of murals of the period by Aaron Douglas. It was designed by African American educator and activist Ruth Clement Bond and made by the unknown wife of a worker at one of the Tennessee Valley Authority WPA dam sites at the juncture of Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama. Although there was significant staining and color loss to the border, the central panel remained intact except for some fading. The buyer was an institution, underbid by eight other bidders and several absentee bidders, including multiple museums. An institutional buyer also prevailed on a colorful early 20th century African American quilt, attributed to East Tennessee schoolteacher Margaret Carr and/or her mother, Lema Carr. The quilt ingeniously (and symbolically) combined a Schoolhouse pattern with a Tree of Life motif, and came with an exhibition history that included the recent “Century of African American Quilts” display at Colonial Williamsburg’s McCarl Gallery. It achieved twice its estimate, $5,280.

The breakout work for Harlem Renaissance sculptor Augusta Savage (b. Florida, 1892-d. NY, 1962) was her bronzed plaster bust of a street urchin titled “Gamin”, created in 1929.  It was so popular that Savage created multiple versions, all of which are in hot demand today. The “Gamin” figure offered by Case, measuring just 9” high with a few scattered chips, easily blew past its $7,000-8,000 estimate to earn $28,800. Another artist who rose to acclaim during the Harlem Renaissance is Tennessee-born Beauford Delaney. His small watercolor abstract expressionist work titled “Composition” soared to $15,600 (estimate $4,000-4,400).

Other fine art highlights included a marine painting of the English ship Cambria racing in the 1870 America’s Cup, by English artist Charles Gregory. It drew a slew of phone bidders and clipped past its $4,000-4,500 estimate to finish at $16,800. A painting of a boat in Smith Cove, Gloucester, Mass., by Emile Gruppe sailed to $4,608, the same price as an early 20th century Grand Canyon landscape by Arthur Best. A Thomas Alexander Harrison moonlit seascape oil achieved $3,840 and a William Bradford coastal sunset oil turned in $2,944. A French landscape by Hayley Lever realized $1,560.

A luminous realist winter landscape by John Wesley Chumley (1928-1984) set a new world auction record for the Virginia/Tennessee artist at $18,000, while “Group of Myselves,” a lithograph by Memphis artist Carroll Cloar, depicting his own likeness at various stages of life, shattered its $1,000-1,200 estimate to finish at $6,000. Other regional art highlights included a C. Kermit Ewing oil seascape, $2,816, a portrait of a man in leotard by Philip Perkins, $2,280, and two small Kentucky landscapes by Harvey Joiner, $1,920 and $1,536. A naive depiction of the L & N Railroad Depot at Etowah, TN by Frances Patterson chugged to $1,560, and an oil landscape by Tennessee artist Ron Williams brought $1,536. A Bill Ralston carved stone sculpture of a dove flew to $1,280, a new auction record for the Tennessee artist.

Several works by American living artists performed well: “Offering” by Darren Waterston, whose ethereal work is currently featured in an exhibit at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, brought $10,880, while a mystical realism scene by Chris Sedgwick titled “Divination of the Continuum” realized $3,840. A cold painted bronze sculpture of a Sioux chief by California artist James P. Regimbal stood at $3,584, while a 17-inch high bronze depiction of author Mark Twain, seated on a bench, by Utah artist Gary Price finished at $2,688. A patinated bronze sculpture of a woman in African style headcovering by Shirley Thomson Smith reached $2,400.

Purchased by a young consignor in a Tennessee thrift shop for $4, an engraved portrait of Princeton University founder and Massachusetts governor Jonathan Belcher made a stunning return on investment, hitting $4,842. The print by John Faber the Younger (British, 1684-1756) was based on a now-lost painting by Richard Phillips. Other works on paper included a 17th century engraving of a dragon, brutally devouring a follower of Greek hero Cadmus, by Hendrick Goltzius (second state of four), $3,120; a circa 1955 Leon Levinstein photograph, “Lower East Side,” $2,880; and a 1956 Alfred Wertheimer photograph of Elvis Presley napping at the Warwick Hotel (printed in 1979), $1,280.

Estate jewelry sparkled throughout the auction. A 6-carat pear shaped diamond (Clarity I-1 enhanced by laser drill, color E) with six baguette diamonds in JB Star designed platinum ring setting doubled its estimate at $40,800, while a Piaget emerald and diamond necklace set in 18K gold hit $31,200 (est. $26,000-28,000) and a pair of matching Piaget earrings hammered for $3,000. All three lots were from the estate of Kathleen Preston of Chattanooga. An eternity necklace with 22 carat t.w. in diamonds from the estate of Dr. Sara Parks Pendleton of Owensboro, KY, realized $21,600, while a 9 carat diamond eternity choker in platinum setting from the same estate brought $6,400. A 5.3 carat emerald ring with diamond accents in 18k setting finished at $8,400, and a strand of 13.5 mm South Sea pearls wrapped up $3,600.  Designer jewelry was in high demand, including a Van Cleef & Arpels 18K bracelet with 296 round brilliant diamonds, $12,000, a pair of Van Cleef & Arpels diamond floral-cluster drop earrings, $7,200, and an 18k Buccellati bracelet with pierced leaf-form sides, $3,456. There was also enthusiastic bidding on estate watches. A circa 1963 men’s Rolex Explorer 1016 with scratched crystal, but retaining its original box and papers, ticked to $26,400 (est. $8,000-8,400), and an 18K men’s Rolex Cosmograph Daytona found a new owner for $24,000. A ladies Rolex 18K Datejust watch with President bracelet and diamond and ruby bezel finished at $9,600.

Buyers took a shine to English silver. A George III Neoclassical sterling epergne by Thomas Pitts of London, dating from 1774-1775, served up $14,080, while a pair of Neoclassical style sterling candelabra by Joseph and Horace Savory of London, dated 1890, lit up at $5,280. A large Old Sheffield plated meat dome with engraved armorial crest “FORTIS IN PROCELLA” (“Strength in Adversity”) held fast at $2,400, and a Scottish sterling salver by Hamilton & Inches of Edinburgh, dating from 1898 and measuring 12” diameter, gained $2,048.  An early 20th century 61-piece assembled set of fiddle, shell and thread sterling flatware, most marked for Thomas Bradbury & Sons of Sheffield, brought $3,712, while a set of 36 pieces of shell handled flatware attributed to Paul Storr realized $1,792, and a 91 piece set of Tiffany Winthrop Pattern sterling silver flatware delivered $3,360. A 101-piece set of Reed & Barton Francis I pattern flatware sold for $2,944. There were some American 19th century coin silver standouts, including a soup ladle bearing the mark of short-lived Memphis, Tennessee partnership between James Merriman & Frederick Clark, $2,760; a J.S. Curtis Memphis coin silver snuff box, $1,080;  and a lot of 3 Bardstown, Kentucky related spoons including one with the rare mark of Ignatius Hottenroth and Felix Cachot (working 1813-1817), $832. Julep cups once again proved their perennial popularity, as a set of 12 Alvin sterling cups knocked down at $1,920.

An extremely scarce War of 1812 era Tennessee state militia jacket, belonging to Lt. William Graham of East Tennessee and accompanied by his powder horn and military commission signed by Tennessee’s first governor, John Sevier, charged to $24,000. A leather-bound ledger from a store in Cheek’s Crossroads, Tennessee, dating 1802-1807, tallied $3,480, and an archive of Civil War ephemera items, including letters from a Tennessee soldier held prisoner at Johnson’s Island plus an ambrotype of unidentified soldier with his revolver, shot to $2,688. An archive of 19th century correspondence between members of the Randolph family of Virginia realized $2,400, and a rare 1825 catalog of books in the Nashville Library, signed by Judge John Overton, registered $2,048. Both the Randolph archive and Library pamphlet were from the estate of the late Tennessee collector Dr. Benjamin H. Caldwell. A loan guarantee signed by President Andrew Jackson on behalf of his two adopted sons and also signed by them, alongside the signatures of Major William Noland and Jackson’s chief portrait artist, Ralph Earl as witnesses, sold for $1,920. And a scarce letter with political content written and signed by Emily Tennessee Donelson, who served as Jackson’s White House hostess after the death of his wife Rachel, hit $1,664. A rare 1792 map of the Southeast by Joseph Purcell, showing the “State of Franklin” (which would later become known as East Tennessee) sold for $1,080; a Thomas Kitchin 1765 map of Louisiana brought $768; and an 1856 J.H. Young map of Texas made $660. 20th century ephemera also found eager buyers: A large NASA Space Race era archive from the estate of Michael Vaccaro, director of administration of the Marshall Space Flight Center of Huntsville, Alabama, rocketed to $2,560 (est. $800-1200), and a circa 1965 Rolling Stones album page signed by three band members struck a high note of $1,200.

A formal Southern walnut Chippendale press, circa 1810, with broken arch pediment having carved rosettes over glazed doors and a chest base, led the furniture category at $11,400. An East Tennessee cherry press with glazed doors and cupboard base, attributed to the Jacob Fisher cabinetmaking shop of McMinn County, earned $7,200 (est. $4,400-4,800), and a cherry corner cupboard with arched doors containing an unusually high number of panes (20) closed at $7,040 (est. $2,400-2,800). A small green-painted Hepplewhite demilune table, possibly Southern, served up $1,792, and a Middle Tennessee Sheraton blanket chest with inlaid escutcheons and two lower drawers realized a robust $1,680.  The furniture category also included several items deaccessioned from the Memphis-Brooks Museum of Art, including an inlaid Federal secretary desk and bookcase with eagle finial and flared feet, $3,840, and a pair of Chippendale ribbon back chairs attributed to Jonathan Gostelowe of Philadelphia, $2,520. A New England paint-decorated dome top box or small trunk lined with 1820s Massachusetts newspaper brought $2,280.

Southern pottery is a staple at Case. A face jug with stamped mark of Harvey Ford Reinhardt (Lincoln County, NC 1912-1960) made many collectors smile at $5,376 (est. $3,000-3,400), but the overall crowd favorite seemed to be a tiny Moravian green-glazed pottery chicken caster, accompanied by an 1891 letter telling its history in an East Tennessee family. It competed to $4,800 (est. $1,400-1,800). A Charles Decker East Tennessee stoneware crock and Samuel Bell small jar sold for $1,216, while a Decker 4-gallon crock realized $1,024 and a small Southern “monkey jug” with double spouts, circa 1866, climbed to $960. Other noteworthy ceramics included a set of six blue and white spatterware plates with polychrome schoolhouse decoration, with history of descent in the Puckett family of East Tennessee, $3,328, along with an historical Staffordshire “Apotheosis of Washington” pitcher, $2,760, and a Liverpool pitcher with “chicken leg” U.S. Eagle seal surrounded by the names of sixteen states including “Tenassee,” $1,408. A Cowden & Wilcox cobalt decorated batter jug with original tin covers sizzled at $1,320.

This auction featured a colorful array of contemporary art glass including seven pieces by renowned Knoxville glass artist Richard Jolley. The concentration of works seemed to enhance, rather than dilute prices, with most pieces exceeding their estimates. Jolley’s “Force of Gravity” totem tallied $6,600 (est. $4,800-5,200) while his pitcher with blue-outlined face served up $4,096 and a figural amber, green and blue dog figure fetched $3,328. A Harvey Littleton blown glass arc-shaped sculpture reached $2,048 and a Tommie Rush blue art glass vase made $1,152. The sale’s top-selling glass lot was a set of sixteen American Brilliant Period Cut glass goblets, including four in the rare Aztec pattern with “petticoat” bases, which soared to $9,600. Lalique glass also did well, including a Bacchante vase with molded figural decoration, $2,560, a Deux Poissons sculpture of conjoined fish, $1,280, and a Tancrede Cheetah figure, $960. A set of sixteen multicolored St. Louis cut glass goblets knocked down at $2,688.

A number of Asian lots in the sale were purchased by overseas bidders. A pair of 15 inch tall Daoist bronze Immortal sculptures sold to a phone bidder for $12,000, while a palace sized cloisonné censer supported on figural cranes flew to $7,000 and a Chinese blue and white Gu vase, drilled and wired as a lamp, lit up at $6,400. A Chinese Yixing teapot signed by Cheng Shouzhen rang up $3,600, and a carved celadon jade duck, accompanied by six small jade plaques, attracted $3,328.

An estate collection of luxury pens created a good volume of bidding. Among the bestsellers: a Montblanc “Peter the Great” pen, $1,560, and Prince Regent, Catherine the Great, and Alexander the Great examples, which each brought $1,320. Many of the pens retained their original cases and service certificates.

Other highlights included a Regency tortoiseshell tea caddy with silver inlay, $3,120; Erte bronze “Dream Girl” and “Emerald Night” sculptures, $2,560 and $2,520 respectively; a Chanel Kelly medium sized turquoise handbag, $2,176; a 19th century 18k pocket barometer, $1,280; a set of four circa 1900 East Tennessee graduated size buttocks baskets, $1,560,  and a late 19th century East Tennessee Whig Rose pattern quilt, $1,216.

Case is currently accepting consignments for its January 30-31, 2021 auction. For more information or to consign, visit www.caseantiques.com, call the gallery in Knoxville at (865) 558-3033 or the company’s Nashville office at (615) 812-6096, or email info@caseantiques.com.

Captions:

  1. Case’s July 11-12 auction featured two sculptures by important African American artist William Edmondson. “Lady with a Book” (est. $40,000-44,000) competed to $144,000, and a “Critter” (est. $18,000-22,000) hit $66,000.
  2. Designed by African American educator and activist Ruth Clement Bond, this Southern Depression era quilt -reminiscent of murals by Aaron Douglas- soared to $50,400.
  3. There was an expansive selection of jewelry fresh from Southern estates, including this authenticated Piaget “High Jewelry” necklace set with a pear-shaped natural emerald and 55 carats worth of diamonds (matching earrings are sold separately). It sold for $31,200 (est. $26,000-28,000).
  4. A circa 1812 Militia Uniform belonging to Lt. William Graham of Tennessee marched to $24,000.  The lot included Graham’s powder horn and military commission signed by Tennessee’s first Governor, John Sevier.
  5. Augusta Savage’s “Gamin” sculptures were intended to represent children living on the streets of New York during the Great Depression. This 9”H example in bronzed plaster hit $28,800 (est. $7,000-8,000).
  6. This JB Star designed engagement ring set featuring a 6-carat pear shaped diamond in a platinum setting sparkled at $40,800 (est. $20,000-24,000).
  7. An abstract expressionist watercolor painting by Beauford Delaney (b. Tennessee, 1901-1979) brought $15,600.

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