African-American Art & Fine Jewelry Highlights at Gray’s


This month at Gray’s Auctioneers, we are delighted to highlight a collection of fine art by prominent African-American artists from our large auction of Fine Art, Furniture, Jewelry, and Decorative Art.  One unfortunate legacy of our country’s struggles with its historic racism has been the neglect of black artists by critics and collectors until recent times.  This month Gray’s is offering a number of artworks by important African-American artists in their October 10th auction.

Starting off the auction at Lot 1 is Michaelangelo Lovelace Sr.’s piece Stand and be Counted.  Born in 1960 in Cleveland’s often brutal inner city, Lovelace was enamored with drawing from a young age, and sought a way to escape the cycle of poverty through his art.  Lovelace was accepted to the Cleveland Institute of Art in 1985, but was only able to complete a year and a half of his degree before the financial pressures of paying his way through art school while raising his young children as a single father took their toll.  Discouraged, but never dissuaded from pursuing his dream, Lovelace finally found his voice through using painting to depict the harsh circumstances of inner city life in a singular folk-art inspired style that lends a whimsy and innocence to his painting’s often harsh subject matter.  Lovelace has gone on to many successes, including having works of art in the collections of the Cleveland Clinic, Progressive Insurance and the Western Reserve Artist Archives. His paintings have been exhibited in Baltimore, Chicago, New York and throughout Ohio, and in 2015 he received the Cleveland Arts Prize, adding to multiple other awards and fellowships he has received throughout his career.  Stand and Be Counted is a large acrylic on canvas painting depicting in intricate detail a crowd of hundreds led by then candidate Barack Obama, a delightful yet sobering reminder in our current political era of the optimism and excitement that accompanied the election of the first African-American president.

Up next are several works by renowned artist and scholar David Clyde Driskell (b. 1931), professor emeritus at the University of Maryland, College Park and perhaps one of the people most responsible for bringing attention to African-American artwork in the late 20th century. Born in Eatonton, Georgia, as the son of a Baptist minister and the grandson of a slave, Driskell’s work was informed by his sense of family, community, and roots from an early age.  After marrying Thelma G. Deloatch, Driskell went north to study in Maine at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. In 1955 he earned his bachelor’s degree from Howard University in Washington, D.C. In 1962, while serving in the U.S. Army, he earned an M.F.A. from the Catholic University of America, also in Washington, D.C. Later, he studied at the Netherlands Institute for the History of Art in The Hague.  Beginning as a painter of nature scenes, since the late eighties Driskell has worked primarily in collage and encaustics, often melding multiple disciplines in creating his evocative collages. He has been one of the foremost scholars of African-American art and folk tradition, publishing a number of books and essays on the subject as well as a documentary film for the BBC in 1990 called Hidden Heritage: The Roots of Black American Painting.  In 2000, Driskell was honored by President Bill Clinton as one of 12 recipients of the National Humanities Medal.  This month we have four of his works up for auction, including Lot 3 Mythic Door, Lot 4 Magic Temple, Lot 5 Sweet Treat, and Lot 6 Untitled.

Evangeline (EJ) Montgomery (b. 1933) is another seminal figure in the development of African-American art.  Born in New York City in 1933, she began painting as a child and her first job after high school was painting faces on dolls and religious statues.  In the mid-fifties she studied with local craftsmen in Los Angeles including African American jewelry designer Thomas Usher.  After she received her college and BFA degrees, she began a long career as a curator, a platform she used tirelessly to fight for greater representation of African American artists. Appointed as an Ethnic Art Consultant at the Oakland Museum, Montgomery successfully organized eight exhibitions of established and emerging Black artists, including a 1971 retrospective of African American sculptor Sargent Johnson (1887-1967) and a 1970 exhibition on California Black Craftsmen.  Now located in DC, Montgomery has continued as a tireless advocate for black artists through her work with the State Department’s Arts America program.  Montgomery initially came to prominence as a metalworker, known in particular for her worked ancestral boxes “meant to hold something precious”.  After becoming afflicted with Parkinson’s disease in her late career, Montgomery has turned her attention to printmaking, and the nine pieces up for auction this month at Gray’s date from this later period, including Lot 12 Caribbean Dream, Lot 13 Highland Flowers, Lot 14 Highland Pinecones, Lot 15 Celebration II, Lot 16 Soul Flowers, Lot 17 Butterflies 2, Lot 18 Celestial Moments, Lot 19 Serenity I, and a set of three monoprint etchings in Lot 20 including Leaf 2009, Wall Design 2009, and Woman 1968.

Shirley Woodson Reid (b. 1936) is yet another influential artist, educator, and scholar based in Detroit.  An art education professor at Wayne State University from 1996 to 2000, Reid started serving as art education supervisor for the Detroit Public Schools in 1992. She also served as director of the Pyramid Art Gallery from 1979 to 1980.  Since the seventies, Reid has been one of Detroit’s most prominent art historians, and has served on the board of numerous arts associations, including as President of the Michigan Chapter of the National Conference of Artists, a position she was elected to in 1997.  Reid’s paintings of African American life are a part of 22 collections housed by the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Studio Museum of Harlem, the Museum of the National Center for Afro American Artists (Boston), Detroit Edison, the Toledo Art Commission, Florida A&M University and Seagram’s.  A series of four of her paintings entitled the Earth Angels Series are available for auction in Lot 7.  With a deft use of contrast and texture, the series consists of four blindfolded portraits of various figures, each otherworldly, resolute, and yet suggesting vulnerability.

Also included in our African American collection this month are a series of three vibrant abstract works by Detroit artist Robbie Best (Lot 9 Untitled 2, Lot 10 Untitled 3, and Lot 11 Untitled 6) as well a splendid watercolor portrait in Lot 8 called Janis with Flowers by longtime Illinois based artist Mary Reed Daniel (b. 1946).  In addition to the pieces by African-American artists, some highlights of the nearly 200 pieces of fine art in this auction include Lot 22, a bold and surreal Self-Portrait by Cleveland painter Scott Miller (1955-2008), Lot 21, a 1961 pencil sketch called Woman Baby Boots by Inuit artist Sharni Pootougook (1922-2003), and Lot 178, an exquisite bronze Standing Female Nude by the seminal German sculptor Marg Moll (1884-1977), whose surviving oeuvre represents only a fraction of her total output after much of it was destroyed by the Nazis.  We are also featuring a voluminous collection of contemporary fine art prints from the K-Mart corporate collection.

This month’s auction also includes 76 lots of Asian artworks and decorative pieces, including a gorgeous Chinese Carved Black Opal Snuff Bottle in Lot 248 that catches the light with a dazzling turquoise gradient, and Lot 249, a Chinese Export Silver Figure of Shouxing, the god of human longevity and one of the Sanxing or “Three Stars” of Chinese folklore along with Fuxing, the god of prosperity, and Luxing, the god of status.  If you missed last month’s Asian-themed auction or are looking for more items to complement your collection, there’s an abundance still to explore.

While artworks make up the bulk of the October 10th auction, we would be remiss if we did not mention some highlights from the huge jewelry collection being featured this month, including Lot 210: a Platinum, Diamond, and Emerald ring set with one round brilliant cut, fancy yellow diamond weighing approx. 5.18cts, with a VVS2 clarity and natural fancy yellow even color, and also set with ten full-cut diamonds weighing approx. 1.20ctw, with a VS clarity and G-H color; two emerald cut diamonds weighing approx. 0.80ctw, with a SI-1 clarity and H-I color; and two emerald cut natural green emeralds weighing approx. 1.00ctw with a fine color and clarity. Lot 211 is a 14 kt. Yellow Gold, Platinum, and Diamond ring set with one brilliant round cut diamond weighing approx. 1.36cts, with a SI-2 clarity and D-E color, and also set with ten princess cut natural diamond melee, total approx. weight 0.65ct, all SI clarity and near colorless.  Other fabulous jewelry pieces are Lot 202: a 14kt. White Gold and Diamond Drop Pendant necklace, and Lot 204: A 14kt. White Gold, Diamond, and Ruby bracelet.  All of these above include GIA reports.  In addition to these stunning pieces, there are a variety of other beautiful necklaces, earrings, rings, pendants, pins, and brooches up for auction.

Other highlights of the auction include Lot 331: A Set of Four German Rococo Style .800 Silver and Gilt Pepper Shakers and Salt Cellars, ca. 1900, Lot 398: a gorgeous deep blue Mashad Wool Rug, Lot 465:  A Mother of Pearl Yamaha Apx-20 Electro-Acoustic guitar, Lot 466: A Miscellaneous Collection of Country Music Stars Fan Club Autographs and Photographs, and Lot 467: A Gibson Mastertone RB-250 Five String Banjo. If your interest is piqued, you can view the full auction catalogue at


Gray’s is open for in-person preview October 4th-10th; Monday-Friday 10am – 5pm, Saturday 12noon – 4pm. The auction starts at 11am EST on Wednesday, October 10th with live bidding available at The fully illustrated catalog is now online at

UpdatesEvan O'Reilly