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Tennessee Aquarium Folk Art Collection Goes to Auction at Clements

May 10, 2022

Chattanooga, Tenn. (May 10, 2022) – Since its opening in 1992, more than 26 million people have visited the Tennessee Aquarium’s River Journey building. Woven into the building’s exploration of water’s winding path from the mountains to the sea are numerous nods to the rich history and heritage of the cultures that arose along the course of the Tennessee River. As guests venture through its galleries, the sounds of Appalachian music and folk-art displays interweave the region’s legacy of human activity with its rich natural history.

The public will have the opportunity to take part in an online auction on Thursday, May 19, to own pieces from the Aquarium’s artwork collection that celebrates the natural anthropology of the Tennessee Valley.

The auction’s offerings represent a carefully curated selection of folk art from regional artisans and outsider artists. Millions of visitors from around the world have seen these pieces, which formerly were on display at the Aquarium in a “Folk Art Wall” near the exit to the River Journey building.

These pieces showcase the creative spirit of outstanding folk artists and artisans from throughout the Tennessee River Valley. Through skills and traditions passed down through the generations, the to-be-auctioned works’ artists created pieces which reflect the deep, abiding connection between the valley and its residents.

“The artists of this region were often self-taught. They looked to the river and the world around them for inspiration,” says Keith Sanford, the Aquarium’s president and CEO. “Every day, the Aquarium celebrates the life that thrives in the Tennessee River. This auction offers a chance to own artwork that shows the resilience and imagination of the people who thrived on its banks.”

A King Tut Treasure by B. F. Perkins
Wood and Root sculpture - The Day the Earth Stood Still by Bessie Harvey
River Cane Planter Basket and Vase by Rowena Bradley; White Oak Waste Basket by Carol Welch

Fig. 2 Upper Left: A King Tut Treasure by B. F. Perkins, Upper Right: The Day the Earth Stood Still by Bessie Harvey, Lower: River Cane Planter Basket and Vase by Rowena Bradley; White Oak Waste Basket by Carol Welch

The Aquarium’s Folk Art Wall has been decommissioned as part of an extensive renovation project.

While some of the pieces from the collection were selected to be placed in office spaces within the Aquarium’s administrative building, the bulk of these unique art pieces will soon be available for the public to own.

“After carefully reviewing several options, we have contracted with Clements Auctions to assist the Aquarium with the sale of these items as a special fundraiser to support our nonprofit mission,” Sanford says.

As one of the most respected auction houses for fine art and antiques, Clements Auctions will use its expansive network of buyers to reach audiences who are already expressing a great deal of interest in many of these one-of-a-kind pieces.

Notable artists in the collection include visual artists such as Bessie Harvey, Fred Webster, and B.F. Perkins, and sculptors, including Jerry Brown, J.L. Nipper and the Webb family of folk artists.

The auctioned items also include fabric works, such as woven baskets by Cherokee artisans, early hand-forged tools and vessels, as well as a sampling of instruments — such as antique guitars and banjos by famous makers like Gibson — which defined the sounds of distinctly Southern musical genres like Dixieland jazz, country, and bluegrass.

The auction will take place Thursday, May 19, at 7 p.m. (Eastern). A public preview will take place the same day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Bidders may register at www.ClementsAuctions.com.

The public may view a catalog of biddable items may be viewed online, or in-person —  by appointment — at the auction gallery located at 7022 Highway 153, Hixson, Tennessee.

For more information or inquiries about the auction, contact Clements by phone at 1-866-425-3636 or email info@ClementsAuctions.com.

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