There was standing room only well before 2 p.m. last Saturday, when art connoisseurs, art lovers, collectors and simply the interested arrived in the Walter Greer Gallery of the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina to join in the Hilton Head Art Auction.
Most, by then, had already previewed the artwork, which filled the gallery -- or they had seen the more than 130 pieces pictured and described in the catalog.
In the lobby, a line formed to arrange for a bidding number to use in the gallery. Inside, the auction organizers were taking their places at a table for telephone or absentee bidding.
This was the real thing.
As the last of the details for the absentee and telephone bidders were entered into the computer, on the stage, and under the Hilton Head Art Auction banner, auctioneer Jason Brooks was testing the sound system for the last time. He checked with the spotters, making certain they were fully in place. This was serious business. Also very, very exciting.
"Even before we started the auction, we were thrilled," said Ben Whiteside, who with Jack Morris is a partner at the Morris and Whiteside galleries, which arranged the event. "The response to the auction was beyond our expectations."
The auction had been staged in Charleston for the last several years. But everybody (everybody) expressed that afternoon that holding the event on Hilton Head was a phenomenally correct move.
"We've already begun talking with the folks involved about setting the date and collaborating with more of the individuals and organizations who would like to expand and contribute to making this event even more spectacular," Whiteside said.
Kathy Bateson of the arts center arranged for the use of the gallery for the preview and auction and saw to a patron appreciation event before opening night at "Sherlock Homes: The Final Adventure."
"We are talking with the Hilton Head Institute about coordinating our efforts so that our combined roles are even tighter next year, too." Whiteside said. "It is great to offer an event that brings together a larger variety of the cultural arts on Hilton Head."
The Lynn Bogue Hunt piece, pictured on the cover of the catalog brought $20,000, according to Whiteside. Hunt (1878-1960) published his first illustration at age 19 for Sports Afield in 1897. By 1951 he had completed 106 cover illustrations for Field & Stream and was one of the most widely recognized American sporting artists with illustrations for more than 40 books and works that appeared in 40 different sporting magazines.
Dean Cornwell's "The Sheik" in oil received lots of attention, too. The successful bidder actually went above the anticipated estimate. Cornwell was one of the leading artists during the American Illustrators impressive popularity, and he was inducted into the legendary "Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame."
Bidding was lively on Dan McCaw's work, especially popular were the "Beach I" in oil and "Beach Study IV."
"We were heavy on the Hilton Head artists, this year," Whiteside said. "So appropriate and it gave us a focus that brought out a lot of new collectors, lots of new faces in the house."
Many in the room were particularly interested and drawn to the important work of Ray Ellis, who died last week. The bidding on his pieces was active as the audience especially responded to "Hide & Seek," "Brunch at l"Etoile," and "Marsh Heron."
Walter Greer's oil paintings, the stunning "Louisiana Arabesque" and "Carolina Low Country," captured lots of attention. The well-known artist and early member of the "Round Table" of artists that included Joe Bowler, Coby Whitmore, Ralph Ballantine, Joe DeMers, George Plante and Ray Eillis, among others, was a founding member of the Hilton Head Art League. In 1996, the gallery at the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina was named after him.
Attendees enjoyed seeing the familiar work of Joe Bowler, Elizabeth Grant, Ben Ham, Michael Harrell, Addison Palmer, Jim Palmer, Joe Pinckney and such important favorites long associated with the island such as Stephen Scott Young, Dean Mitchell and Jonathan Green.
"We had a terrific time and, in the end, sold more than 70 percent of the body of work we assembled, and many over the high estimate," Whiteside said. "These were diverse collectors who knew their values and who were prepared to offer handsome prices for important, valuable work ... be watching out for next year."
Artist, musician, teacher and writer Nancy K. Wellard focuses on portraying and promoting the cultural arts, first in Los Angeles and, for close to 30 years, in the Lowcountry.