NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — The art collection of celebrated writer and civil rights activist Maya Angelou sold for nearly $1.3 million on Tuesday.
A painted story quilt that hung in Angelou’s Harlem home and was commissioned by Oprah Winfrey for Angelou’s 61st birthday brought $461,000 at the Swann Galleries sale.
“Maya’s Quilt of Life” by African-American artist Faith Ringgold depicts Angelou surrounded by flowers along with excerpts from some of her writings. The acrylic on canvas with a pieced fabric border had a pre-sale estimate of $150,000 to $250,000.
The nearly 50 artworks were consigned to the auction house’s African-American Fine Art Department by Angelou’s estate.
Her son, Guy Johnson, said in an introduction to the auction catalog that “her family hopes that the art which added color and character to her daily life does the same for others.”
Her collection also reflected her interest in female artists like Elizabeth Catlett and Phoebe Beasley and African culture.
“Kumasi Market,” an oil-and-acrylic painting of a crowded Ghanaian market scene by African-American muralist John Biggers, sold for $389,000, an auction record for Biggers, and above the $100,000 to $150,000 estimate.
“The Obeah’s Choice,” a watercolor by Romare Bearden of two African-Caribbean women, was purchased for $87,500. It has been estimated to bring $20,000 to $30,000.
A painting by Jonathan Green, “Wading in the Surf,” sold for $13,750. Its pre-sale estimate was $8,000 to $12,000.
The quilt is the only Ringgold quilt to ever come to auction. It measures 6 square feet and includes passages from Angelou’s works “Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water `fore I Diiie,” `’Gather Together in My Name,” `’The Heart of a Woman” and “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.”
“Just as Dr. Angelou continues to serve as a source of inspiration for countless artists, writers and performers, she also found inspiration in the works of others,” her son wrote in the catalog.
Her personal papers, including letters to Malcolm X and James Baldwin, are housed at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, a research unit of the New York Public Library.
Angelou was born Marguerite Johnson in St. Louis and raised in Stamps, Arkansas, and San Francisco. Her life included writing poetry by age 9, giving birth as a single mother by 17, and becoming San Francisco’s first black streetcar conductor. She also once danced at a strip joint, shared the stage with comic Phyllis Diller and garnered career advice from singer Billie Holiday. She wrote music and plays, received an Emmy nomination for her acting in the 1970s TV miniseries “Roots” and danced with Alvin Ailey.
Tall and majestic, Angelou added heft to her spoken words with a deep and sonorous voice, describing herself as a poet in love with “the music of language.” She recited the most popular presidential inaugural poem in history, “On the Pulse of Morning,” when Clinton opened his first term in 1993. She inspired many and became a mentor to Winfrey before she became a talk show host.
Angelou once worked as a coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and lived for years in Egypt and Ghana, where she met Mandela. In 1968, she was helping the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. organize the Poor People’s March in Memphis, Tennessee, where the civil rights leader was slain on Angelou’s 40th birthday.
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