How the ‘holy grail’ of American folk art was found on the front porch – NBC New York
A missing sculpture known as the ‘holy grail’ of American folk art has been found after nearly 90 years, when a collector’s keen eye led to the find that was hidden in plain sight on the porch of a house.
The unassuming statue, with two stone-faced women seated next to each other, is simply carved. But at the American Folk Art Museum near Lincoln Center, it’s anything but ordinary.
“It’s a dream story to discover a William Edmondson there,” said Valérie Rousseau of the museum.
The artist behind this work is a man named William Edmondson. The son of slaves, he was one of the few black artists recognized for his work in the 1930s. But over the years some of his laws have been lost, including one called Mary and Martha.
Collectors had been looking for him for decades. Then folk art collector John Foster made an incredible chance find, spotting it on the porch of a private home in St. Louis, Missouri.
“I was actually flabbergasted because I knew I was looking at a sculpture of the great William Edmondson,” Foster said.
Foster knew he had stumbled upon something that was not only special, but important. And that the public needed to see it.
“I said, ‘I want you to know that I think you have a very important piece of American folk art,'” Foster told the owners. “I said, ‘Let me help you put this in a big museum in New York.'”
John learned that Martha and Mary had spent decades in the same family, passed down from generation to generation – but they had no idea what they had.
“Finding an Edmundson that was missing from our history book was a real joy,” Rousseau said.
William Edmondson only started sculpting when he was 60 years old. He gained a following in the 1930s and sold his plays for around $35 at the time, but they now fetch over $700,000.
Mary and Martha are on display at the American Folk Art Museum until September.