November 12-13 marks the second installment of the bi-annual Slotin Folk Art Auction hosted in Buford, GA. For 23 years The Slotin festivals and auctions have been keystone avenues for bringing awareness of outsider art to the public. The annual Slotin Folk Fest that’s been held since the fair’s inception was discontinued this year due to location issues, but despite the end of the folk festival run, the auctions will continue to bring recognition to and an avenue for folk and self-taught art.
This year’s auction features a total of 1,121 lots, and as usual the auction hosts works by a wide array of some of the biggest names in folk art. Patrons can expect to see works by celebrated figures such as Bill Traylor, Thornton Dial, Sam Doyle, Clementine Hunter, Howard Finster, and Leroy Almon.
The increased popularity and presence of these artists’ works reveal the rising appreciation of revival in art. The exposure of these artist’s previously overlooked work to the public is in truth a rediscovery of the traces of history that might otherwise be forgotten. Instead, as auction founder Steve Slotin says, the auction makes people “Realize what treasures they have in their backyards.”
One of the many aspects that make the Slotin auction unique is that it gives us a multitude of ways to view the historical contexts of many of the artists’ lives apart from their work. In addition to masterpieces by some of the most well renowned and revered folk and self-taught artists, the Slotin auction also offers a unique plethora of historical artifacts—allowing us the possibility to get a deeper look into the various epochs that stitch together the fabric of history as a whole.
We also get the chance to catch glimpses of the lives of some of the artists through artifacts that allow the artist’s story to be told by another. Not only will the auction proudly be showcasing and selling a variety Clementine Hunter paintings, but various Hunter memorabilia will be available as well. This compendium of ephemera comes courtesy of the collection of Hunter patron James Register, and consists of a number of photos and an original sketch of Register by Hunter.
Hunter’s paintings give the viewer a peek into everyday 20th century plantation life through warm colors—colors that suggest an ability to appreciate beauty and wonder even in the face of harsh conditions. But the addition of Register’s documentation of Hunter’s life adds a deeper insight into her life than she would be able to provide solely on her own. We see her in her own day-to-day—a view into her life that isn’t filtered through the brilliance of her paintings. We see her through the eyes of a friend, not through the eyes of her interpretations of experience.
The coupling of ephemera and art is also evident in the auction’s most high profile pieces by slave-born Bill Traylor. His drawing “Purple And Green Man With Umbrella” is going for an estimated $60,000-70,000, and “Preacher…Hat…Beard…Cheeks” is estimated at $25,000-35,000.
Traylor’s “Purple And Green Man With Umbrella” epitomizes the blend between art and historical artifact. Traylor depicts the simple image of a man drawn in an almost childlike fashion. While we can appreciate the seemingly innocent image on its own, it’s the medium used that adds an incredible layer of complexity. It is not merely a piece of cardboard that Traylor uses as a vehicle for his drawing, but the back of a candy bar advertisement.
The advertisement shows a group of white boy-scouts proudly and happily marching together in the name of the luxurious treat of candy. Once we consider the imagery of the advertisement, the biting commentary that accompanies the “innocent” drawing is staggering. We now have the lone, harshly marginalized black man juxtaposed with the idea of openness that the figure has been excluded from entirely. It is a clear picture of the segregation and social estrangement pervasive throughout Traylor’s era.
Traylor almost secretly presents to us an artifact that spits in the face of the socially disenfranchised, and without us even knowing, the advertisement serves as the backdrop to a bold social and artistic statement about the loneliness of the socially rejected. “Purple And Green Man With Umbrella” is simultaneously a work of art and a historical relic that serves as a direct testament to the devastatingly divided and dismal times of late-era depression.
The Slotin Folk Art auction is a place where we can learn about ourselves and others through a variety of sources crafted by a wide array of hands. “What I like about it is the diversity,” Slotin says of the auction. “We go from some great southern folk pottery into some really unique and interesting early carnival finds that were pulled out of a barn, right into the masterpieces of self-taught art.” This diversity in content mirrors the diversity of attitudes and perspectives we as viewers are confronted with. The Auction is most certainly a place to delve into the fascinating world of folk and self-taught art, but also a place to soak up many day-to-day facets of past eras—teaching us about aspects of our history and human condition that we might not otherwise have thought to examine, in turn causing us to reflect upon where we stand now and even where we stand in the future.
Whether you’re an art aficionado, a newcomer to the folk art world, a history buff, or just a curious individual, there’s something for everyone to appreciate and learn. The attitudes of openness, inclusion, and reflection that’s inherent in the Slotin Folk Art Auction are exactly the types of attitudes needed to ensure that this incredible art continues to be discovered and appreciated, giving us the chance to discover our past, present, and future selves through newfound artistic and historical lenses.
This fall’s auction grossed a total of $1,156,518. The average price per lot was $1,046.00. Bill Traylor’s “Purple and Green Man with Umbrella” went for $73,200, going slightly higher than the original top estimate of $70,000. Traylor’s “Preacher…Hat…Beard…Cheeks” was sold at $27,000. Clementine Hunter’s “Large Funeral Procession” went for $9,600 surpassing its highest estimate of $8,000.