Angel of the Lord

Howard Finster’s “Angel of the Lord.” 1989. The 86-inch-wide painting is one of the highlights of Slotin Folk Art Auction’s Spring Self-Taught Art Masterpiece Sale on April 24.

Summerville artist Howard Finster’s “Angel of the Lord” painted wooden cutout goes on the auction block April 24.

The secondary market for folk art is red hot, even amid an historic pandemic, and Slotin Folk Art Auction expects prices to stay strong, possibly even climbing, at its Spring Self-Taught Art Masterpiece Sale on April 24.

Co-owner Steve Slotin bases that positive projection on the fact that Slotin Folk Art’s Fall Self-Taught Art Masterpiece Sale on Nov. 14 was one of the auction house’s most successful in nearly three decades of conducting sales, with total revenues of $1.48 million. Also fueling his confidence is that he has scoured the country, but especially the Southeast, for the best classic pieces that will comprise the 409-lot sale.

“The spring sale is going to be an almost encyclopedia of folk art, and I think everyone will enjoy it,” Slotin said. “It’s the only place in the county where you can find the breadth of self-taught, outsider, folk art in one location.”

Many of the strongest works come from the private collection of Gary Davenport and Robert Bishop, both deceased. Tastemaker Bishop helped elevate self-taught art as an early director of New York’s Museum of American Folk Art starting in 1977 as well as the author of numerous books on folk art and crafts, sharing his wealth of knowledge about everything from paintings and sculpture to quilts and whirligigs.

Slotin’s haul from South Florida, where Davenport resided, includes works by Southern artists who had a strong presence in the budding of American folk art from the mid-20th century onward, including Sister Gertrude Morgan, Clementine Hunter, B.F. Perkins, Mose Tolliver, Chief Willey and Thornton Dial. Artists represented from other parts of the country include Lee Godie, Malcah Zeldis, Jack Savitsky, Jon Serl, Justin McCarthy and Gustave Klumpp.

“These two collectors were buying early, before anyone really discovered this field,” Slotin said. “The diversity of the artists that we’ll have is only equal to the quality of each of these major, major pieces. People will have the opportunity to see and buy from this collection that has been put away for 40 or 50 years, including many works that were also featured in Robert’s books.”

But the piece that Slotin expects to top bidding is an 86-inch-wide-by-42-inch-high Howard Finster painted wooden angel cutout, “Angel of the Lord,” from the collection of a Northwest Georgia couple that was close friends with the famed folk artist. Slotin calls the angel, created in 1989, “one of the most sought-after pieces of Howard’s work” because only a handful of Finster flying angels on that epic scale are known to exist. Three are vibrantly hued, including the red one with white wings (on which Finster scrawled with countless Bible-inspired messages) that is going on the block April 24, while a fourth is black and white.

Slotin’s optimism about the angel (which the auction house is estimating at $30,000-$40,000) stems from another rare supersized Finster having performed strongly during last November’s bidding. The painting “Chelsea Baptist Church” (1977), believed to be the artist’s largest (103.5 inches wide by 44 inches high, with frame) of his early masterworks, brought $51,250 (including 25 percent buyer’s premium). That made it the second-highest result ever for a Finster at auction.

Slotin said the biggest takeaway he and his partner and wife Amy Slotin had from last November’s sale was, “The market remains strong and is only getting stronger for self-taught art. The buyers are looking for the best examples they can find, and they’re willing to pay whatever it takes.

“So the field has jumped from being a pure underground art movement to now mainstream, where the collectors are the same people you see at big New York auction houses buying contemporary or midcentury artists. Now they’re getting into self-taught artists. They know that this is the next big thing.”

Last November’s soaring prices also underlined to the couple that continuing to print and mail catalogs, though expensive, is a wise investment. Slotin Folk Art Auction is one of the last auction houses that continues to provide a full-color physical catalog for free to its customers.

“It’s very effective, it puts it in their hands and gives them the opportunity to really shop,” said Steve Slotin, who expects to distribute more than 15.000 copies of its 140-page spring sale catalog.

Based in Buford, Slotin Folk Art Auction conducted its first auction in 1994. Its Spring Self-Taught Art Masterpiece Sale on April 24, will be held online via LiveAuctioneers, with phone and absentee bidding available.

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