AMERICAN folk art moved into new territory at Sotheby’s New York on October 6 when this life-size Indian chief weathervane with a rich verdigris patina sold for $5.2m/£2.9m (plus 20/12% buyer’s premium).
That folk art, once the poor relation of 'fine' furniture, could
realize such a sum was cited as a significant moment by prominent
members of the American trade who have seen prices rise steadily
for such vernacular masterpieces.
The moulded copper weathervane, possibly made by the J.L. Mott
Iron Works of New York and Chicago, c.1900, was part of the
collection of American antiques assembled by Josephine and Walter
Buhl Ford II of Grosse Pointe Farms, Michigan. They had bought it
in 1971 for a price believed to be under $5000. At the time its
imposing size, some 5ft 2in wide by 5ft 7in high (1.57 x 1,70m) was
deemed a handicap.
Sotheby's folk art specialist Nancy Druckman estimated the
weathervane, then still in situ on the roof of the Fords home, at
$100,000-150,000 but there was already speculation before the sale
that the folk art record - the $4.3m paid for an Edward Hicks'
Peaceable Kingdom at Christie's in January 1999 - might be
Only the previous month, a steam locomotive weathervane (acquired
at Skinner in 1987 for $185,000) had reappeared at Northeast
Auctions in New Hampshire to sell at a record $1.1m. The consensus
was that the chief was bigger and better by some distance.
Seven bidders were in the running until around $3.5m before two
participants - one on the telephone and New York collector Jerry
Lauren in the room - completed the bidding. Mr Lauren, who is
executive vice president of men's design at Polo Ralph Lauren, was
He described his purchase to reporters as "a piece of great art
[and] the most perfect weathervane I've ever seen."
By Roland Arkell