Arts & Culture

Wellard: Hilton Head Art Auction brings in renowned artists' work, big bids

Auction officials are in place for the 15th season the Hilton Head Arts Auction, a fine arts auction at the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina on Hilton Head, produced by Jack A. Morris Jr., J. Ben Whiteside and David G. Leahy.
Auction officials are in place for the 15th season the Hilton Head Arts Auction, a fine arts auction at the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina on Hilton Head, produced by Jack A. Morris Jr., J. Ben Whiteside and David G. Leahy.

It was the loudest silence, ever. Deafening, really.

It was two o'clock, exactly, on Oct. 10, and the Hilton Head Art Auction was about to begin.

The assembled -- connoisseurs, art appreciators, collectors, and the interested -- were seated carefully among the temporary partitions of the gallery of the Art League of Hilton Head. They silently fingered through their well-worn catalogues, then strategically positioned themselves so they had the most perfect sight line toward the auction block, and the three gentlemen, who were about to open the bidding.

Many in the packed gallery checked and rechecked their bid cards and most took a last glance at their cellphones.

All eyes were trained on Jack Morris, of Hilton Head Art Auction, as he entered the gallery, at the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina.

He was the first to speak.

The gallery walls were filled to the brim with the most exquisite paintings. The occasion was actually the 15th season of fine art auctions, and everyone had come, many from miles and miles away, to be a part of it, at the very least, or to be a successful bidder, at the other end of the auction spectrum.

The auction principals Jack A. Morris Jr., J. Ben Whiteside and David G. Leahy had gathered an impressive collection of important oils, watercolors and acrylic paintings by nationally recognized artists through America.

Page after page of the catalogue featured work to be auctioned by artists such as Stephen Scott Young, Clark Hulings, Mary Whyte, Dean Mitchell, Joseph Lorusso, Dan McCaw, Dan Gerhartz, Milt Kobyashi, to name just a few.

A number of well-known artists connected to the Lowcountry, such as Joe Bowler, Ray Ellis and Walter Greer, were listed too.

Noteworthy were: an early watercolor, a Hilton Head coastal setting, by Walter Greer; a grouping of Joe Bowler's iconic figurative paintings; and several incredibly sought after pieces by famed Garden's Corner Gullah artist and master painter Jonathan Green.

Morris warmly greeted the crowd, reviewed the procedures and terms of the auction format, introduced the panel of officials, who kept eyes on the Internet, ears on the phone, and a summary of the important record of bids and purchases.

He thanked a group of students from Hilton Head Christian Academy, on hand to move the artwork swiftly from the wall to the block, and most especially, the auctioneer and his sideman, who really would keep the auction moving along. There was applause, but it was tentative -- total fall-out from bidder antsyness.

The assembled were focused. This art auction was serious business. It seemed, in the final analysis, a kind of artistic, intellectual entertainment -- with a financial outcome for those with their eyes on the prize.

Jason Brooks, the auctioneer, with headset in place, was well known by many. From Pine Mountain, Ga., and star of the TV series "Auction Kings," everyone knew they were in good hands.

He greeted everyone, told a couple of wonderful stories, then introduced his sideman, Guerry Wise, from Savannah, another who was well known to the assembled. Their banter was total perfection, and we could feel the oxygen return to the room.

Then, almost magically, the auction began to flow.

First on the block was "A Big Thumbs Up," by Karin Jurick, and it sold in under a minute, as did almost all of the amazing, and varied collection that followed. The crowd, as experienced as they were, seemed surprised.

The next few lots crossed over the block, and Brooks and Wise added dimension to the rounds of bidding. All in the gallery had reached their stride. They bid, they laughed, they clapped, they returned the banter. To say that bidding was spirited and lively would be the understatement of the year.

Everyone had forgotten the fickle weather outside, the constant rain on that Saturday -- along with any misgivings they might have held about their bidding and the outcomes.

The Internet, telephone and absentee bid table was active, too.

"We had registered bidders participating from throughout the U.S., Canada, Spain, France, Germany, United Kingdom, Italy, Australia and China," Morris said.

Top lots included the catalogue cover painting by Clark Hulings, a 24-inch by 36-inch oil, "Near Woodville," estimated at $80,000 to $120,000, sold for $112,125.

Then a 24-inch by 16-inch oil by Pino, "The Orange Scarf," estimated at $16,000 to $20,000, actually brought $26,450. A watercolor by Dean Mitchell, the 20-inch by 30-inch "Clapboard House," and estimated at $12,000 to $15,000, hammered down at $15,525.

Next year's Hilton Head Art Auction will be staged Feb. 27 at Morris & Whiteside Auction headquarters, 220 Cordillo Parkway, Hilton Head.

By the way, when the last hammer fell, just about 84 minutes into the afternoon, the auction totals were more than $325,000.