African American Art In the Spotlight at Case’s July 11-12 Auction

  • KNOXVILLE, Tennessee
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  • June 23, 2020

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Case’s July 11-12 auction features two sculptures by important African American artist William Edmondson: “Lady with a Book” (est. $40,000-44,000) and a “Critter” (est. $18,000-22,000).
Case Antiques

Sculptures and paintings by William Edmondson, Beauford Delaney, and Augusta Savage, along with two important African American quilts, headline the Summer Case Antiques Auction, set for July 11-12 at the company’s headquarters in Knoxville, Tennessee. The auction also offers a dazzling array of high-end estate jewelry and timepieces, American furniture and textiles deaccessioned by the Memphis-Brooks Museum of Art, and an outstanding collection of studio glass, along with Case’s traditional fare of Southern regional decorative arts and historical memorabilia.

            Works by William Edmondson, the self-taught son of Tennessee slaves who in 1937 became the first African American artist to have a solo exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art, are currently attracting a surge of interest from institutions and advanced sculpture collectors, and limestone figures carved by Edmondson have dominated the top spots at past three Case auctions. This auction features two Edmondson sculptures from the same New York estate collection, “Lady with a Book” -likely inspired by a woman in Edmondson’s Nashville community - and a “Critter” (the term the artist himself used to describe some of his slightly ambiguous animal forms). They are joined by a vivid abstract expressionist watercolor by Beauford Delaney, another Tennessee-born Black artist. Delaney established himself in New York during the Harlem Renaissance, working in a mainly representational style, but his works became increasingly abstract after he moved to Paris in 1953. Like Delaney and Edmondson, Florida native Augusta Fells Savage had to battle prejudice and economic injustice early in her career before earning international recognition. The sculpture that proved to be her breakout work, a bust archetypical of Harlem street urchins titled “Gamin,” became so popular that she created several versions. The one offered by Case is 9” high and sculpted in plaster with a bronzed patina. (Savage went on to become a major figure in the Harlem Renaissance movement and established the Savage Studio of Arts & Crafts in 1932).

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            The auction also features an early to mid 20th century quilt recently exhibited at Colonial Williamsburg’s “Century of African American Quilts” exhibit. The quilter, believed to be schoolteacher Margaret Carr (born Rogersville, Tennessee, 1909) or her mother, Lema Carr, combined a traditional schoolhouse pattern in vivid, alternating colors with a semi-abstract “tree of life” motif to create a unique and striking design that calls to mind the prints of M.C. Escher. Also for sale is a Southern “TVA Quilt” designed by Black educator and civic leader Ruth Clement Bond, whom the New York Times credited with helping “transform the American quilt from a utilitarian bedcovering into a work of avante garde social commentary” in its Nov. 13, 2005 report of her death. Bond provided home economic instruction to wives at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s WPA dam construction sites at the juncture of Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi. She gave the women quilt patterns of her own design, reminiscent of murals by Aaron Douglas and foreshadowing the cutout designs that would be made popular years later by Henri Matisse. The quilt in Case’s auction is one of only six in this pattern known to exist (three are currently in institutional collections; the whereabouts of two others are unknown).  Also included in this auction are a number of other Southern quilts, deaccessioned from the Memphis-Brooks Museum of Art, in a variety of vivid patterns including Lemoyne Star and Pineapple, and examples from other consignors including a signed crazy quilt and Southern Whig Rose pattern quilt.

This quilt, attributed to Margaret or Lema Carr of Tennessee, was recently featured in Colonial Williamsburg’s “Century of African American Quilts” exhibit. (est. $2,000-2,400).
Case Antiques

            Estate Jewelry and Silver sparkle throughout the two-day event, representing more than 250 of the auction’s 1,065 total lots. Highlights include an authenticated ladies Piaget 18k necklace set with 414 diamonds totaling over 55 carats, centered by a pear-shaped 2.45 carat emerald (with matching earrings offered separately) and a JB Star platinum engagement ring set with 6 carat pear shaped diamond surrounded by brilliant and baguette-cut diamonds, both from the estate of Kathleen Preston of Chattanooga; and a platinum eternity necklace set with 102 graduated round diamonds weighing a total of 22 carats from the estate of Dr. Sara Parks Pendleton of Owensboro, KY. There is also a 3.08 carat diamond cathedral style ring in 18k setting from the estate of Jean Payton of Kingsport, TN, and a trove of all-gold jewelry including a Federico Buccellati bracelet, Italian gold necklaces, and gold coin pendants. Several luxury watches are offered, including a men’s 18K Rolex Cosmograph Daytona, a 1963 Rolex Explorer, a ladies Baume & Mercier 18k and diamond watch, and a ladies 18k Rolex Datejust with diamond and ruby bezel. One of the most fascinating backstories in the auction belongs to an early 20th century Tiffany 14k mesh purse and coin purse, accented with diamonds and sapphires, and engraved with the name of Lena Jones Springs (1883-1942). Springs was a woman’s rights activist from Pulaski, TN who in 1924 became the first woman to be placed in nomination for Vice President of the United States at the Democratic National Convention (and the only woman to do so until Geraldine Ferraro, 60 years later). The auction also includes a retired Nashville area businessman’s collection of 20th century pens including Montblanc’s Prince Regent, Catherine the Great, Semiramis, and Agatha Christie models and examples by Cartier, Pelikan and Parker. And from a Knoxville estate there is a large selection of luxury handbags, clothing and accessories by Chanel, Judith Leiber, Prada, Gucci and Balenciaga.               

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 is bronzed plaster and is estimated at $7,000-8,000.
Case Antiques

Several of the sale’s top silver lots come from the estate of Marion “Bit” Hutcheson, owner of a well-known Southern equestrian training and breeding site, Happy Valley Farms of Rossville, Georgia, including an outstanding pair of Art Nouveau Jugendstil candelabra and an elaborate George III Neoclassical sterling epergne, fully hallmarked for Thomas Pitts I of London, 1774. There is also a Matthew Boulton Regency period sterling epergne, Neoclassical candelabra by Joseph and Horace Savory of London, and a 145-piece service of flatware in Gorham’s coveted Versailles pattern. American coin silver collectors will find a noteworthy selection of Southern coin silver flatware and hollowware such as a John Kitts Kentucky agricultural premium goblet, a scarce Memphis, Tennessee coin silver snuff box, a cup marked for Campbell & Yongue attributed to South Carolina, and spoons by obscure makers such as Hottenroth & Cachot of Bardstown, Kentucky.

Putting air in the sails of the Fine Art offerings is a painting of the 1870 America’s Cup, depicting the English yacht Cambria, competing off the coast of New York against one of seventeen American schooners in the first Cup race to be hosted by the U.S. The British artist, Charles Gregory, was considered the premier yacht portraitist of his day. Father and son artists Charles and Emile Gruppe are both represented in this sale, Charles by a landscape titled “Unloading Hay on the Connecticut River,” and Emile by a painting of boats in the harbor at Smith Cove, Gloucester, Mass. Seascapes by American artists William Bradford  and Thomas Alexander Harrison are also for sale, along with impressionist European scenes by American painters George Loftis Noyes, Francis Hopkinson Smith, and Hayley Lever, a sunset view of the Manhattan skyline by Henry Van Notti, and an oil portrait and prints by Arthur Spear. There are 19th century landscapes by British artists Lamorna Birch, Benjamin Leader, Alfred de Breanski and Charles Leslie, along with several still lifes by George and Oliver Clare, and Northern European scenes by Pieter Wouwerman and Petrus Vertin. An early 20th century oil by California Arthur Best captures the dramatic colors of the Grand Canyon, while color also stands out on cold painted bronze sculptures by James Regimbal and Carl Kauba. Other Western art includes a Joe Kronenberg oil portrait of a bear, and Native American paintings by Pablo Milan and Paul Surber. Southern regional art includes two Kentucky landscapes by Harvey Joiner and a Mississippi genre scene by Willie Earl Robinson; a Virginia or Tennessee Winter snow scene by John Chumley, a seascape by Kermit Ewing of Knoxville, and two works by Philip Perkins of Nashville: an abstract oil and a mid 20th century portrait. There are also 19th century Tennessee portraits by Samuel Shaver and Washington Bogart Cooper, plus a a rare lithograph by Carroll Cloar titled “Group of Myselves,” and several sculptures in ceramic and wood by Olen Bryant. The folk/outsider art category includes a large Raymond Coins carved stone stele measuring 28”H, a Vannoy Streeter wire semi-truck, and a Ronald Cooper “Heaven & Hell” radio cabinet with loud paint and applied wooden figures depicting the afterlife

 The Dragon, Devouring the Companions of Cadmus, by Hendrick Goltzius, is one of several interesting works on paper in the auction. The grisly engraving dates from the first half of the 17th century, and illustrates a Greek myth, based on the painting by Cornelis van Haarlem. Other works on paper include a Jan Saenredam engraving, Sine Cerere et Baccho Friget Venus; Childe Hassam’s Portsmouth Church and Old Lace, four aquatint engravings after Captain John Platt depicting British and Indian hog hunters, plus a rare mezzotint portrait by John Faber the Younger of Jonathan Belcher, the Colonial governor of Massachusetts and founder of Princeton University (The original painting by Richard Phillips, on which it was based, is now lost).

The growing Historical category at Case includes a 19th century painting of President Andrew Jackson along with a number of Jackson related documents, several of them bearing his signature, including one guaranteeing repayment of an $8,000 loan, also signed by his adopted son and nephew, Andrew Jackson, Jr., Andrew Jackson Donelson, and the artist Ralph E.W. Earl and Major William Noland as witnesses. There is also an extremely scarce letter with insightful content, written by Emily Tennessee Donelson, who served as Jackson’s White House Hostess, since his wife Rachel Jackson died before she could assume the duties of First Lady. An archive of letters from the Randolph family of Virginia, related to Thomas Jefferson, is featured, along with documents signed by American founding father Roger Sherman, Robert Irwin, Francis Preston Blair, and John Overton and Abram Maury of Tennessee, A circa 1810 Tennessee militia coat worn by Lt. William Graham provides a colorful dash of red, white and blue to the auction, and is accompanied by his powder horn and a commission document signed by the state’s first governor, John Sevier. There is also an oil portrait of CSA Captain Samuel Wilkins, in uniform, an Alexander Gardner/Timothy O’Sullivan albumen view of the Army of the Potomac Headquarters at Brandy Station, 1863, and a McMinn County, Tennessee Confederate soldier archive with ambrotype of soldier and his revolver. Weapons up for bid include a Colt model 1851 Navy .36 caliber revolver, a Philadelphia Derringer, a Remington Elliott Pepperbox Pistol, and long guns such as a Stacey and Angel (Knoxville, Tennessee) percussion long rifle. Among the 20th century historical items are World War II propaganda posters and a NASA related archive from the estate of Col. Michael Vaccaro, including more than 400 photographs, and the log book from the Lunex II project that helped lead to the Apollo 11 lunar landing. Maps include a scarce bird’s eye view of Memphis dating from about 1890; a 1765 map of Louisiana by Thomas Kitchin; thirteen circa 1800 maps by Edward Wells including Africa; and a 1792 map of Southeastern U.S. showing the short-lived “State of Franklin,” which would become known as East Tennessee.

Photography collectors will find several eye-catching items including an Alfred Wertheimer signed photograph of Elvis Presley, napping at the Warwick Hotel in 1956, from the estate of award-winning celebrity photographer Raeanne Rubenstein of Nashville. There are also photographs by Jack Spencer, Neil Folberg, Leon Levinstein, Karl Moon, and Shelby Lee Adams.

            This sale features one of the largest collections of contemporary studio glass to come to auction in some time. There are more than half a dozen works by acclaimed Tennessee glass artist Richard Jolley, including a lilac dichroic sculpture of a male torso, dog sculpture, and several of his well-known figural “totems”. Also featured are glass works by Harvey Littleton, Mark Peiser, Duncan McClellan, Leon Applebaum, and Tommie Rush, along with a large assortment of Lalique glass.

            The furniture category is highlighted by American furniture deaccessioned from the Brooks Museum of Art in Memphis, along with a range of Southern and European pieces. The Museum furniture includes a Federal “Cumberland Action” telescoping dining table attributed to Constantine & Co. of New York or Thomas Seymour of Boston, along with a pair of Philadelphia ribbon-back side chairs attributed to Jonathan Gostelowe, and a Federal secretary-bookcase, likely of New York origin. Southern standouts include a Chippendale walnut press with arched glazed doors over four drawers, a Tennessee or Kentucky Hepplewhite sugar chest, and an exuberantly inlaid corner cupboard with hearts and fylfots, attributed to Piedmont North Carolina. An important Greene County, Tennessee corner cupboard with arched doors containing twenty panes is featured, along with a two piece Tennessee press attributed to the Jacob Fisher cabinetmaking shop,  illustrated in the book The Art & Mystery of Tennessee Furniture. A Sheraton tiger maple sugar chest is the crowning piece of a collection of tiger maple and burlwood furniture and accessories from the estate of Tennessee collector James “Jimmy” Neely; he also owned several miniature chests and primitive pieces being offered in the sale. Lovers of more formal furniture will appreciate an Edwardian marquetry desk by Hobbs & Company of England and an Italian giltwood Louis XVI style console table with variegated rouge marble top.

             Southern Pottery is a staple at Case. This sale’s headliners include 3 North Carolina pieces: a face jug with ceramic teeth by Harvey Reinhardt of Lincoln County; a slip decorated earthenware plate attributed to Alamance or Randolph County, and a small Moravian green glazed figural chicken pepper shaker accompanied by an 1891 letter detailing its history in the Witt/Horner family. A 4-gallon crock by Charles Decker of East Tennessee with sine wave decoration, and a Southern earthenware “Monkey Jug” dated 1866, are featured along a jug by Sylvanus Hartsoe of North Carolina and a collection of miniature advertising and whiskey jugs. There are also six rare “Schoolhouse” pattern spatterware plates with history of descent in the Puckett family of Tennessee. Other ceramics include a rare George Jones signed majolica cheese dome, a Meissen porcelain basket with ram’s head handles, English Imari pattern porcelain, and several pieces of Historical Staffordshire, including a Liverpool “Apotheosis of Washington” pitcher.

A palace sized cloisonné censer supported by figural cranes towers looms large -literally- in the Asian category, along with a sizeable 21” jade or hardstone Guan-Yin figure, a signed Yixing teapot attributed to Cheng Shouzen, a Republic Period yellow ground Famille Rose Cong vase mounted as a lamp, Chinese jades including a fine duck figure and white jade ruyi scepter;, and a large selection of Asian bronze figures.

A collection of illustration art is led by a Walter Whitehead oil on canvas painting advertising “Cream of Wheat;” there are also 2 Donald “Rusty” Rust Pin Up Girls and book illustrations by Richard Hescox, Mort Kunstler, and Charles Gates Sheldon. Other notable items in the auction include an exuberant New England painted dome top box; Native American baskets; 2 Erte bronze sculptures, a collection of antique and vintage slide rules and other scientific items; a room sized signed Persian Kirman rug, and a collection of Mexican retablos and other religious antiques.

            The complete catalog for the auction, with full descriptions, price estimates, and photographs for items, in the order in which they will be sold, can be viewed online at www.caseantiques.com. Online bidding is already open.

Case’s gallery is located at 4310 Papermill Drive in Knoxville. The auction begins Saturday, July 11 at 9 AM EST and Sunday, July 12 at 1 PM EST. Reservations are being accepted for a limited number of live floor bidding seats on a first come, first served basis. A limited number of phone bids will also be accepted in addition to unlimited absentee and online bidding. Due to coronavirus precautions, the company will accept private preview appointments between now and July 10. For up to date information, consult the Case website. For more information or to consign objects for a future auction, 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.


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