NEW YORK, N.Y. – The art collection of celebrated writer and civil rights activist Maya Angelou is heading to auction this month.
Among the highlights of the Sept. 15 Swann Galleries sale is a painted story quilt that hung in Angelou’s Harlem home. It’s a work by African-American artist Faith Ringgold titled “Maya’s Quilt of Life” that was commissioned by Oprah Winfrey for Angelou’s 69th birthday in 1989. It depicts Angelou surrounded by flowers along with excerpts from some of her writings. It’s an acrylic on canvas with pieced fabric border that could bring $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. They’re expected to fetch $400,000 to $640,000.
Angelou died last year at age 86.
Her son, Guy Johnson, said in an introduction to the auction catalogue that “her family hopes that the art which added colour and character to her daily life does the same for others.”
Her collection reflects 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 Bigger, is estimated to bring $100,000 to $150,000.
“The Obeah’s Choice,” a watercolour by Romare Bearden of two African-Caribbean women, has an estimate of $20,000 to $30,000. And a painting by Jonathan Green, “Wading in the Surf,” could bring $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 “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 catalogue.
“For my mother, paintings, sculpture, dance and music were ways of translating the intangible into digestible bites; these forms of art were ways of expressing feelings and emotions that resisted the confinement of words,” Johnson said.
Earlier this month, the contents of Angelou’s home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, were sold during a three-day estate sale.
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.
The artworks will be on view at Swann Galleries from Sept. 9 through Sept. 11.