Rare art, fascinating objects, and significant collections can be found at local auction houses, from California to North Carolina
THREE-DOZEN HANDS seemingly waving this way and that create a joyful pattern on a large, undated quilt by Sarah Mary Taylor (1916-2000) of Yazoo City, Miss. Known for her appliqué style and laying her quilts out in a windowpane design, Taylor’s composition features a three-by-three grid with four hands in each box. She often employs silhouettes of hands, text, animals, and a figure wearing a scarf in her work, sewing the images directly on top of quilts she made using fabric from dresses.
A small selection of quilts by African American artists is for sale at Ledbetter Folk Art Auctions in Gibsonville, N.C., including three quilts Taylor. The auction house specializes in what it calls outsider art, self-taught art, and folk art. Tomorrow, Ledbetter is hosting a 544-lot Folk Art Auction. The sale features items from the collection of Larry Hackley, (1948-2021), a specialist in Southern pottery, quilts, and Kentucky folk art. A white collector, curator, and author, he owned Hackley Gallery in Winchester, Ky., before moving it to Berea, Ky.
Lot 0271: From the collection of Larry Hackley, SARAH MARY TAYLOR (1916-2000), African American Quilt, n.d. (75 x 83 inches). | Estimate $2,000-$4,000. SOLD for $1,600 fees not included
The Sept. 23 auction is offering 49 items from Hackley’s collection, among the group is 14 quilts. According to the auction listings, seven are attributed to African American makers: three by Taylor; one the auction house believes is “after Sarah Mary Taylor” (meaning in the style of Taylor, but probably by another maker); one by Lula Bell Brown (1923-2020) of Alabama; one by an unknown Alabama quilter; and one, though titled African American, is characterized in the lot description as “very possible” that it is an African American-made quilt.
Brown was born Sept. 18, 1923 in Marengo County, Ga., according to a handwritten tag attached to Lot 0275. The vibrant quilt is an eclectic mix of colors and patterns designed with a border surrounding a meticulously executed patchwork theme. The quilt is composed of nearly 150 squares, each one sewn with four or five different fabrics in a diagonal stripe pattern. The tag describes the work as a “strip quilt w/ blocks (crazy block)” created in 1986 in Dallas County, Ala.
Additional quilts from Hackley’s collection are titled American Antique Quilt and in the lot descriptions the auction house suggests it is “very possible” the item is an African American quilt. From another consignor, Lot 0288 is also titled American Antique Quilt and has a repeated pattern of yellow sunflowers. The lot description states the following: “Brought to the auction by a picker who purchased directly from an African American family who verified that the quilt was made by a family member in North Carolina.”
Lot 0275: From the collection of Larry Hackley, LULA BELL BROWN, African American Quilt, 1986 (69 x 88 inches). | Estimate $2,000-$4,000. SOLD for $600 fees not included
AN ARTIST KNOWN FOR HER QUILTS and drawings, Taylor was born in Anding, Miss., in the Mississippi Delta. She first learned quilting as a child from her mother, Pearlie Posey (1894-1984), working with bed linens and pillowcases. Taylor was still a child when she went to work as a field hand on plantations. Then as an adult she worked as cook and a housekeeper for several families. Decades went by before she returned to quilt making.
Taylor concentrated on making quilts later in life, after retiring when the physical demands of her work began to strain her health. She started making quilts with the intention of selling them in the late 1970s, after her aunt Pecolia Warner (1901-1983) was featured in a 1977 documentary “Four Women Artists” by scholar/folklorist William Ferris. (Southern writer Eudora Welty was among the other artists highlighted.)
“Mind Storm: Contemporary American Folk Art from the Arient Family Collection,” presented at the Richard E. Peeler Art Center at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., featured Taylor’s work. Three quilts by were on view in the 2004 exhibition: “Statue of Liberty Quilt” (1988), “Dancing Lady Quilt” (1990), and “Everything Quilt” (circa 1990). Her work has also been acquired by museums. Quilts by Taylor are in the collections of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the International Quilt Museum at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln.
In addition to the quilt designed with a multiplicity of hands, the Ledbetter auction includes quilt by Taylor featuring a series of potted flowers. Another quilt is composed of a grid of nine squares, all but one containing the words “The Lord is My Shaper” (perhaps referencing the opening line of Psalm 23: The Lord is my shepherd). The middle square in the left column states: “The Lord is My Lord.” CT
UPDATE (09/23/23): Auction results added. All featured quilts sold for well below estimates
CHECK DIRECTLY with the auction house regarding dates and times of the sale and preview, and any questions about lot details, condition, provenance, and authenticity
READ MORE John Durry, an artist, teacher, and curator visited with Sarah Mary Taylor at her home in 1995 and remained in touch with the artist. In 2017, he wrote about Taylor, her work and his experiences with her for Mississippi FolkLife
FIND MORE Drawings by Sarah Mary Taylor were the focus of “Don’t Mess with Me,” a 2020 online exhibition at Shrine gallery in New York
FIND MORE A photograph of Sarah Mary Taylor working on a quilt is among the records at the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art
Lot 0272: From the collection of Larry Hackley, SARAH MARY TAYLOR (1916-2000), African American Quilt, n.d. (77 x 80 inches). | Estimate $2,000-$4,000. SOLD for $1,500 fees not included
Lot 0270: From the collection of Larry Hackley, SARAH MARY TAYLOR (1916-2000), African American Quilt, n.d. (81 x 84 inches). | Estimate $2,000-$4,000. SOLD for $500 fees not included
A large circa 1980 quilt by Sarah Mary Taylor was featured on Antiques Roadshow. A prime example of Taylor’s designs, the windowpane-style quilt includes silhouettes of a figure and animals. The appraisal by Kathleen Guzman took place at Cheekwood Estate & Gardens in Nashville, Tenn. | Video by PBS
Many volumes have been published about African American quilters, both historic artists active primarily in the 20th century and as well quilters working today. “Black Threads: An African American Quilting Sourcebook” by Kyra E. Hicks provides a guide. Bisa Butler is among the contemporary artists who are expanding the creative possibilities of quiltmaking. “Bisa Butler: Portraits” was published to accompany her first solo museum exhibition. Also consider the exhibition catalog “Fabric of a Nation: American Quilt Stories,” which features Butler’s work on the cover. There are also several publications about the Gee’s Bend quilt artists in Alabama, including “The Quilts of Gee’s Bend,” “Gee’s Bend: The Architecture of the Quilt,” and “Gee’s Bend: The Women and Their Quilts.”
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