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    Auction Finds

    African American art

    I have a friend who loves to attend Swann Auction Galleries’ African American art sale in New York where you can spend thousands of dollars for a Charles White or Elizabeth Catlett, or some of the newer and lesser-known African American artists. She bids on artists she likes, but for a much lesser amount. I don’t think she’s been able to out-bid anyone yet.

    Early this year, she bought an abstract piece by Philadelphia artist Samuel Brown at the Black Fine Arts Show held each year, also in New York.

    Me, I like to find my African American art treasures at mom-and-pop auctions. I look for the “masters (I’m partial to the early black artists)” and sometimes I get very lucky. Some years ago, I bought a lovely Samuel Brown watercolor of three women – they look to be Asian, Black and White – and paid $75 for it. It had some water stains at the top, but attached to the back was Brown’s study for the piece. It’s worth a lot more than $75 now.

    Recently, my favorite auction house had its bi-annual Gallery auction, which included artwork, antique furniture and Asian collectibles. I came across an African American female artist whose works I had seen when I first started collecting. Her name is Reba Dickerson Hill, a Philadelphia artist (who died in 1994 at age 75) known for her use of sumi-e , a Japanese ink painting process. This piece, called “Duck Blind,” is watercolor and ink.  You can learn more about the process on the Sumi-e Society of America website. Unfortunately, I found little bio info about Hill.


    This piece  needs a little cleaning, but it looks to be in good condition. The previous owner didn’t take very good care of it. It always amazes me that people fail to protect their art. When I buy at auction, I try to examine the pieces as thoroughly as possible. Most of them are in frames (except for oil on canvas), but I eyeball them all to make sure there is no substantial damage.

    On the back of “Duck Blind” is an old exhibition card for Woodmere Art Gallery (I believe it refers to what is now Woodmere Art Museum in Philadelphia). The exhibition card gives the artist’s name, address, the name of the piece  and the price at the time ($300). I was one of two bidders for the piece, and I got it for $100.

    hildafront2Another piece I purchased is by a woman named Hilda Hyman, whose name I did not recognize. I could not find anything about her via Google. It’s an oil painting of an African American boy. The bids on this one did not go very high (less than $50). Hopefully, I’ll eventually find out something about the artist. Maybe she was someone who didn’t consider herself an artist but  just loved to paint. Regardless, it’s a nice painting.

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    1. Hi – You might be interested in exploring – it is a database of african american artists.

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