KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Work by self-taught sculptor William Edmondson was the star lot at the recent Summer Case Antiques Auction, after selling for more than three times its pre-sale estimate.
Edmondson's limestone sculpture, "Lady with a Book," sold for $144,000, against an estimate of $40,000-$44,000. Edmondson's limestone sculpture “Critter” was another highlight, tripling its estimate of $18,000-$22,000 to reach $66,000.
The self-taught son of Tennessee slaves, Edmondson became the first African-American artist to have a solo exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in 1937. Case said his sculptures are currently attracting a surge of interest from institutions and advanced collectors, and limestone figures carved by him have dominated the top spots at the past three Case auctions. The auction house has sold eight of his works in the past five years, including one now in MOMA’s permanent collection, and two which have topped $250,000 in just the past year.
“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 the 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 15 years ago, and it’s gratifying to see more collectors and institutions joining in our excitement about these works.”
Other auction highlights include a Depression-era “TVA quilt” designed by African-American educator and activist Ruth Clement Bond that smashed its $2,000-3,000 estimate to reach $50,400. The quilt depicts a black man with a guitar, torn between the hands of a woman and Uncle Sam. It was 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.
An early 20th century African American quilt, attributed to East Tennessee schoolteacher Margaret Carr and/or her mother, Lema Carr, sold for $5,280, which was more than double its estimate of $2,000-$2,400. The quilt combines a schoolhouse pattern with a Tree of Life motif.
Harlem Renaissance sculptor Augusta Savage's breakout work from 1929, a bronzed plaster bust of a street urchin titled Gamin, was so popular that she created multiple versions, all of which are in high demand today. The Gamin figure offered by Case, measuring 9 inches high, sold for $28,800, handily beating its estimate of $7,000-$8,000.
A small watercolor abstract titled Composition, by Tennessee artist Beauford Delaney, who also rose to acclaim during the Harlem Renaissance, sold for $15,600 - more than three times its estimate of $4,000-$4,400.