10 Pieces of American Folk Art That Embody "We the People"

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Truly of the people, by the people and for the people, folk art unmistakably embodies the American spirit of democratic inclusiveness and creativity. Made by an array of talented, diverse individuals, folk art – from Coney Island style carousel figures to New England needlework – serves as a window into the social, artistic and historical context of American culture. Click ahead for a selection of these remarkable pieces on offer during Sotheby's Americana Week.

Important Americana
18–21 January | New York

10 Pieces of American Folk Art That Embody "We the People"

  • Carved and Polychrome Paint Decorated Pine Spread Wing Eagle, Attributed to Wilhelm Schimmel, Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, Circa 1870. Estimate $80,000–120,000.
    Wilhelm Schimmel (1817–1890), itinerant woodcarver active in Cumberland County (near Carlisle), Pennsylvania and nearby counties, frequently used his carved eagles, birds, fowl and animals as payment for food, spirits and lodgings. He was born in Germany in 1817, immigrated to the United States after the Civil War, and could, from time to time, be found at Samuel Bloser's carpentry shop where he collected the wood that he ultimately fashioned into his famous carvings.

    Important Americana
    18–21 January | New York
  • Isaac Heston, Portrait of Catherine Clinton Heston (1755-1804) with an Apron Full of Flowers, Circa 1774. Estimate $140,000–180,000.
    At the beginning of the American Revolution, Isaac Heston was working in the plumbing business in Philadelphia with his brother Thomas. After refusing to swear allegiance to the King when the British took possession of Philadelphia in September 1777, Heston was forced to flee from the city. He joined the Continental army, and was a member of the Silk Stocking Company, or sect of Free Quakers. After the war he was actively engaged in politics and was elected to the Legislature in Lancaster.

    An advertisement from an old Pennsylvania Chronicle suggests that Heston had an alternative livelihood: PAINTING performed by ISAAC HESTON in the neatest Manner, viz. Coach, Chaise, Chair, Sign, or any kind of Landscape Painting; - also Lettering and Gilding.  He will take the utmost care to satisfy all those who will favour him with their commands; and is to be spoke with at THOMAS WILLIAM's in Second-Street, between Market and Chestnut Streets.

    Important Americana
    18–21 January | New York
  • Rare and Important Painted and Molded Copper "Goddess of Liberty" Weathervane, Possibly J.L. Mott Ironworks, New York, Circa 1880. Estimate $100,000–150,000.
    Beginning about 1865, weathervane manufacturers marketed designs that appealed to the patriotic and expansionist spirit, and several versions of the Goddess of Liberty weathervane were produced through the turn of the 20th century. Most exhibited common features, combining classical garb, a Phrygian cap and an American flag. In ancient Rome the Phrygian cap was worn as an emblem of freedom by ex-slaves, and in France revolutionaries adopted the wearing of Phrygian caps after the storming of the Bastille, which accounts for its symbolic importance in America.

    Important Americana
    18–21 January | New York
  • James Bard, The "Eliza Hancox," 1864. Estimate $20,000–30,000.
    A self-taught marine artist with a keen interest in steamboats, James Bard was born in New York City in 1815. He worked closely with his twin brother to record many of the important ships passing through the Long Island Sound and Hudson River. Painted in 1864, the present picture documents the name of the vessel, Eliza Hancox, along with its builder, M.S. Allison. Over the course of his career, Bard completed over 4,000 paintings.

    Important Americana
    18–21 January | New York
  • Rare African-American Alkaline Glazed Stoneware with Kaolin Inserts Face Jug, Edgefield District, South Carolina, Circa 1860–1880. Estimate $20,000–30,000.
    Recent scholarship has theorized that these vessels were largely ceremonial and possibly used for conjuring.

    Important Americana
    18–21 January | New York
  • Ammi Phillips, Portrait Helen (Lena) Ten Broeck (1803–1839), 1834. Estimate $150,000–300,000.
    This portrait is a spectacular example of Ammi Phillips' work in his "Kent Period." It is inscribed with the sitter's name, age and date on its reverse side. The portrait is of Helen (Lena) Ten Broeck (1803–1839) of Germantown, Columbia County, New York when Lena was 30-years-old. She is painted with absolute assurance within a dramatic and powerful composition. She is represented with beautiful pale skin tones and a vibrant green velvet dress with a black leaf and vine decorated belt and cuffs. She holds a small red volume of “Watts” within an interior with a black upholstered Federal sofa and a rich mahogany background.

    Important Americana
    18–21 January | New York
  • Very Fine and Rare Standing Carved and Painted Basswood Carousel Figure of an Elephant, Charles I.D. Looff, Brooklyn, New York, Circa 1895. Estimate $40,000–60,000.
    Charles Looff arrived in America in 1870. He first worked in Brooklyn as a furniture carver, but he soon convinced the owner of the Coney Island beach pavilion to install a handcrafted carousel. His days were spent working as a furniture craftsman, he worked on the carousel at night in a basement, where he carved and painted every animal by himself. His carousel combined a mixture of horses and menagerie animals, decorated with etched mirror ornaments that came to be known as the Coney Island style.

    Important Americana
    18–21 January | New York
  • Ralph Fasanella, Mill Workers-Lower Pacific Mill (Working At The Mill), Circa 1977. Estimate $50,000–70,000.
    This monumental painting, Mill Workers-Lower Pacific Mill (1977), is the one of a series of seven paintings by Ralph Fasanella associated with the 1912 textile strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts. After the horrific tragedy of the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire where 145 young women lost their lives, a spotlight was shone on the dangerous working conditions immigrant workers often endured. For many throughout the country, aggressive collective action was their only recourse. Therefore when a dispute arose over reduced pay, workers in Everett, Arlington, Washington and Wood Mills walked off their jobs, inciting a general strike. 

    Fasanella did not believe in art for art's sake. Painting, he believed, had to serve higher goals- it had to communicate ideas that would lead to self-realization for the working people he cared so much about. It had to be spontaneous, emotional, and true. It had to be original, not formulaic. And above all, it had to be seen. The Lawrence series as a whole stands today as one of the most important and visually powerful bodies of historical painting produced in the 20th century by an American artist.

    Important Americana
    18–21 January | New York
  • Rare and Important Canvaswork Picture of a Lady with Tulips Worked by Hannah Phillips, Boston, Massachusetts, Circa 1750. Estimate $20,000–40,000.
    There are a total of three embroidery pieces created by Hannah Phillips that survived the centuries. The other two are currently owned by a descendant of the family. As was customary with affluent New England families, Hannah was probably sent to Boston to study when she was about fourteen. The present example attests to the fact that, in keeping with her station, she had illustrious schoolmates, because similarity of style and one bold tulip plant reveal that she must have been taught by the unknown "fishing-lady instructress ." Hannah’s sampler and needlework pictures, and also her work box, were loaned to an exhibition of needlework being organized by Nancy Graves Cabot for the Women’s Educational and Industrial Union in Boston in 1937.

    Judge Samuel Phillips, brother of Hannah Phillips was the founder of Andover Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts.

    Important Americana
    18–21 January | New York
  • Very Fine White Painted and Carved Pine Eagle Wall Plaque, John Haley Bellamy, Kittery Point, Maine, Circa 1880. Estimate $15,000–30,000.
    John Haley Bellamy was a prolific carver known for this type of painted eagle plaque. In addition he was known to carve ornamentation for homes, ships, furniture, garden figures and signs.

    Important Americana
    18–21 January | New York
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