In celebration of Winston-Salem Delta Fine Arts’ 40th anniversary, art lovers got a rare chance to bid on pieces by noted artists during an auction at the gallery last Thursday night.
Both silent and live auctions were held for 44 pieces by 38 artists whose work has been displayed at the Delta Arts Center gallery over the years.
Gallery Executive Director Dianne Caesar said that Delta only holds auctions about once every 10 years to avoid having to frequently request art donations from artists, who often get many such requests from galleries worldwide. The last auction was held in 2002. It raised $38,000, which helped the gallery relocate from its cramped Third Street location to its current New Walkertown Road site.
Works by area and national artists were up for grabs at last week’s auction, where Belinda Tate, director of Winston-Salem State University’s Diggs Gallery, served as auctioneer. Like the artwork itself, minimum bids varied widely, ranging from $75 for a silent auction sculpture by Greensboro artist Terry Lee Nelson, to $10,000 for the live auction pencil piece by the late Harlem Renaissance artist Lois Mailou Jones.
A small group of bidders attended, comprised of gallery board members and other Delta supporters. Those who couldn’t make it in person did their bidding over the phone, while others expressed interest in buying pieces if they didn’t sell during the auction.
P.J. Williams, a former board member who has been collecting art for 20 years, was among the bidders present.
“This is a great auction, and there are pieces that I’m interested in,” she said. “It’s a great way to support Delta Fine Arts and a great way to get a piece of art.”
Williams said she started collecting pieces after viewing many different exhibits, including those at the Delta Arts Center, and often meeting the artists themselves. Collecting is an expensive hobby, said Williams, so she can indulge only every so often. Currently, she and her husband have accumulated 50-60 hanging pieces and about 20 sculptures. Her favorites include a painting that local artist Francis Brown Jr. did of his daughter, Valarie, a segmented landscape by Robert Reid and a piece by the renowned Romare Bearden.
The Williamses’ collection got slightly larger after the auction. P.J. Williams had the winning bids on a painting by Brown, who displayed her work at the first Delta exhibit in 1972, and a greeting card by Hale Woodward, a nationally-known artist who gave the card to New York art collectors John and Vivian Hewitt. Mrs. Hewitt donated Woodward’s card and others by various artists to Delta for its fundraising auction.
Williams advises those just getting into art collecting to buy what they love.
“Love what you buy; put your heart and soul into it and … buy what you would enjoy,” she said.
It was the first auction for longtime art lover Prince Raney Rivers, the pastor of United Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church. During the auction, he consulted over the phone with his mother, who used to work for the Georgia Arts Council.
“I thought it was great. The pieces were quality, the auctioneer did a great job, I hope the Art Center made some money,” said Rivers, who left with two pieces.
The auction brought in thousands, but not anything close to the haul brought in a decade ago. Caesar said she wasn’t expecting those type of proceeds in an economy that has negatively affected art sales.
[pullquote]“I thought it was great. The pieces were quality, the auctioneer did a great job, I hope the Art Center made some money,” said Rivers, who left with two pieces.[/pullquote]Tate, who has been a licensed auctioneer for more than seven years, said that the auction went “reasonably well.” She said with some African American artists growing in national recognition, a few of the pieces, such as those with opening bids in the thousands of dollars that had no had takers, had “outpaced the resources of the community,” a community that could’ve afforded the artists’ work before their popularity exploded.
As the auctioneer, Tate researched the pieces, examined them, helped determine prices and find buyers. During the auction, she informed buyers about pieces and tried to fetch the best price for each piece sold. She said she enjoyed seeing people learning about the pieces and, in some cases, falling in love with them on the spot.
“I love artwork,” said Tate. “I love helping wonderful works of art find very good homes. There’s a match making aspect that I enjoy … One of the things that I love about arts in general is that ‘ah-ha’moment, that moment of discovery, and I live for that.”
The auction was just one of several events that the gallery will hold to mark its anniversary. Other events include a symposium on African American women in art, an art education initiative, exhibits and the culminating event – a masquerade ball in October 2013. Also next year, the gallery plans to start a book club and an online eBay store.
Delta’s first exhibit was held at the Benton Convention Center on Oct. 12, 1972. It featured about 100 pieces by 80 black artists. It was without a building of its own before moving into a house on Third Street in 1982.
For more information, visit www.deltaartscenter.org.