Susan Kleckner, University City, MO
American folk art grabs the attention of its audience in ways few other art forms do because of its immediacy and its clear communication of values and aspirations. We can easily understand the pride of a seven year old schoolgirl completing her first sampler, or how a trade sign rivets potential consumers past and present with its graphic promise of professionalism and the quality of a finely delivered product.
Within the oeuvre, few American folk artists have captured the hearts and imaginations of its viewers as has Edward Hicks (1780-1849). The Pennsylvania Quaker artist was known in his day for his coach and sign painting and itinerant ministry. Today he is recognized as the creator of a series of unforgettable images (62 known versions) illustrating the prophecy of Isaiah, The Peaceable Kingdom, in which the wolf and the lamb, predator and prey, lie together in a peaceful, ideal world. This theme of otherwise adversaries living in harmony, is repeated in several of Hicks’ other works. These paintings have come to represent the ultimate in American folk art both for their innocence and their command in the market place.
Auction records for Hicks’s Peaceable Kingdoms have been set and surpassed in 1999 and almost each year since 2006. The assumption that ownership of a painting by Edward Hicks is a bankable retirement plan for its owner has enticed consignors to bring a variety of works by the artist to the market place. However, if the hammer price is the test of that market assumption, then the glittering aura surrounding Edward Hicks may not be the American folk art gold it is believed to be.
The performance of Hicks’s paintings at auction corroborates one of the most transparent lessons in how the art market functions. Factors such as condition, rarity, provenance and sale circumstances each play a role in the final hammer price. By examining several of Hicks’ works in addition to recent Peaceable Kingdoms, and their respective moments on the auction block, the lesson we come away with is that it is not a single market for a single artist, but multiple markets according to the individual circumstances of the work for sale.
Susan Kleckner holds a bachelor’s degree from Yale, where her thesis was “Images of the New Republic: Connecticut Itinerant Painters, 1780-1800,” and a master’s degree from the University of Delaware’s Winterthur Program in Early American Culture. Her Winterthur thesis was “Strawberry Hill: A Case Study of the Gothic Revival.”
As a curatorial assistant at the Maryland Historical Society, Ms Kleckner contributed to “Classical Maryland, 1815-1845: Fine and Decorative Arts from the Golden Age” (1993) and “Lavish Legacies: Baltimore Album Quilts” (1994). From 1992-2002, Ms Kleckner directed the folk art department at Christie’s auction house in New York, where she handled a variety of paintings by Edward Hicks, among other notable American folk artists. Then she taught at New York University’s appraisal program and co-authored Instant Expert: American Folk Art (2004), a primer for budding American folk art collectors.
Ms Kleckner is now an Americana consultant based in University City, MO and an adjunct professor of decorative arts at Washington University in St. Louis and frequent lecturer at the St Louis Art Museum. Her recent contribution to the Winterthur Portfolio is “Art and Reform: Sarah Galner, the Saturday Evening Girls, and the Paul Revere Pottery” (2009). Ms. Kleckner is an ADAF member and former Board member; she installed, launched and maintained the first version of the ADAF website. Susan Kleckner also appeared on the “Antiques Roadshow” as a folk art appraiser from 2002 to 2005.