Selling the creations of a lifetime

Dean Meeker Estate Auction

by Gary John Gresl

Pegasus, Dean Meeker, Polished bronze, 18 x 24 x 10
Many persons recognize his name. Many students at UW Madison have been taught by Professor Meeker between the years 1946 to 1992. And many collections hold examples of his work. Dean Meeker, Emeritus Professor of Art, died in Madison on October 4, 2002.

The family chose to sell at auction a large portion of his private art collection which consisted of fine art by dozens of recognized artists, ethnographic art from various places, and many examples of Dean’s own prints, paintings and sculpture. The sale was held in Madison at Turner Hall, on November 29, 2003. This author attended that sale and I am pleased to file this positive story.

The sale of 207 lots was conducted by Aardvark Auctions, Larry Larmer, registered Wisconsin auctioneer. FYI, this author has worked for several auction companies over the years, and with some experience can say that Larry and his company did an extremely fine job. He was assisted in the organization of the sale by Meeker family members, and other thoughtful experienced individuals, and their care produced a well conducted and well attended auction. While Larry mentioned at the outset that his firm was used to conducting estate and antique sales, and that this was an unusual and unfamiliar opportunity, any lack of experience in handling fine art did not show.

The hard copy catalog supplied necessary information, as did the online version which could be viewed in advance on Aardvark’s website. The auctioneer tenaciously followed the procession of the catalog, maintained a brisk but careful pace, and allowed viewers and bidders every opportunity to raise their paddles. Larry was patient, unflappable, pleasant, and his staff remained focused as they gathered the many items which were displayed around the perimeter of the hall.

Besides an abundance of Meeker’s own work, there were many works by fellow UW teachers and former students, as well as a variety of work by artists that he had been in personal contact with over the decades. There were numerous prints by fellow UW professor Warrington Colescott, some of these from the “early days” of the 1950’s and 60’s. Other artists included were William Weege, Arthur Thrall, Kaiko Moti, Hugh Townley, Al Sessler, Ray Gloeckler, Dr. Evermor (Tom Every), Marko Spalatin, and on and on. There was a Spillman carousel horse, an Art Nouveau poster advertising the Folies Bergere, Mexican and Indonesian masks, oddments and curiosities. A hugely horned African Watusi animal skull stands out among them.

It is common knowledge that fine art, especially that by persons who have not gained a national audience, will often have a weak “aftermarket”…or secondary sale value. Once an object leaves the hands of the artist or the gallery representing the artist, the true resale cash value may be a small percentage of the original sale price. It is this tendency that made this sale an interesting one to attend, and provided an opportunity for many people to potentially purchase fine art at below first-market value. Additionally, many of the works in this sale had not been available before, so there was even more potential for the audience to find the offerings appealing.

Bidding from the particular audience that shows up, based on their knowledge, opinion and funding, is what determines prices at any auction. At this sale one had to decide for oneself if the artists and work offered had significance at a national level and might have potential for profit. But, falling in love with a particular piece, whether or not the artist was of significance, is often the reason for enthusiastic bidding…not potential resale value.

Undoubtedly there were pieces by nationally known artists in this sale, but there were also many quality works by persons with limited national visibility and history. For me as an observer and occasional dealer in the after-market, it is my opinion that this sale was a success as measured by consistently reasonable prices buoyed by a persistent and serious crowd of bidders.

Despite an abundance of Meeker’s own work, and that of his associate Warrington Colescott, bidding remained strong for their pieces throughout the sale. Prices for prints generally were gaveled down from $150 to $600. Numerous sculptures by Meeker brought prices ranging from a few hundred to over $1,000. There were only a few more highly regarded sculptures by Meeker that did not sell due to reserve, and judging by comments from the auctioneer those reserves must have been around $4,000 each. There were, however, several larger Meeker bronzes that sold close to or exceeding $1,000 each. There were only a handful of lots by various artists that did not get a starting bid and therefore remained unsold.

Here is a small sampling some of the individual pieces and their gavel prices. Almost all prints were unframed. Some were artist proofs, limited editions, etc. Condition was good or better.

Warrington Colescott, serigraph, “A Moonlight Swim”, 1952, $295
Warrington Colescott, serigraph, “The History of Printmaking, Ben Franklin at Versailles”, $525
Warrington Colescott, serigraph, “Beauty and the Beast”, $200
4 small welded “bug” sculptures by Dr. Evermor (AKA Tom Every) $150 to $375 ea.
Dean Meeker sculpture, “Swimming Girl” (maquette), rolled flat bronze, $550
Dean Meeker serigraph, “Maschera Roto”, $500
Dean Meeker bronze, “Joseph’s Coat”, $1,900
Dean Meeker cast paper relief, “Dedalus, $150
Dean Meeker, “Minotaur Cast Shadow 2”, rolled flat bronze, $350
Dean Meeker, “Pegasus”, unique polished bronze, did not meet reserve
Dean Meeker, “Posing Nude”, patinated garden sculpture cast bronze, $1,100
Al Sessler, “Medusa”, etching, $200
Al Sessler, “Three Ladies”, lithograph, $275
Marko Spalatin, lot of two “Cube series” serigraphs, $250
Kaiko Moti, “Rolling Horse”, etching, $350.00
Kaiko Moti, “Herd”, lithograph, $475.00
Kathe Kollwitz, “Death Reaches into a Group of Children”, lithograph, $1,025
Arthur Thrall, “Oval 10”, serigraph, $300

The original 207 lots were actually expanded in number because the auction service permitted lots consisting of two or more pieces to be split up if there was prior interest for one piece to be singled out for separate bidding. This happened dozens of times throughout the auction. In numerous cases absentee bidders also had their chance as bids were carefully executed by the auction service.

It happens that bidder’s remorse sets in after a sale like this. Often attendees to such a sale will look back and regret that they did not bid at all, or that they did not bid high enough. Post-sale it is realized that opportunities like this do not occur often, and some items infrequently appear for purchase. Prior and during the sale one weighs costs, bidding limits, preferences, quality…and then after the sale recognizes that the opportunity is gone forever. This author is suffering from such remorse, wishing that I had bid a few steps higher, and regretting that I operated with a limited pocket book.

It was announced that there remains more fine art from the estate which might be offered for sale in the future…perhaps sold at auction or by some other means. Most of this is work by Dean Meeker, but just what remains for potential sale was not enumerated. So, maybe, for some of us, there will be a one more chance to try again.

AIW would like to extend a special thanks to Warrington Colescott and the estate of Dean Meeker for permission to reproduce images for this article. In particular thanks to Stephanie Meeker for her willingness to help.

Pegasus, Dean Meeker, Polished bronze, 18 x 24 x 10 Joseph's Coat, Dean Meeker, Bronze (cast), 15 x 8 x 3.5 Television by Warrington Colescott, 1952, Serigraph 15 x 9.5
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