Works from the private collection of one of the 20th century’s most celebrated individuals head to auction September 15.
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel,” is one of the countless profound statements of the late Dr. Maya Angelou (1928-2014). Her words resonate today perhaps more than ever because it was how she made people feel that has been her most lasting legacy. A poet, dancer, actress, singer, and author, Angelou first moved the world with I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969), a telling autobiography that recollects her life journey to age 17, overcoming brutal racism while blossoming into a capable, intelligent activist. She would go on to publish six more autobiographies, three books of essays, and several books of poetry that have consistently found their way on the list of New York Times Best Sellers.

Faith Ringgold, “Maya’s Quilt of Life,” 1989, acrylic on canvas with pieced fabric border,
(c) Swann Auction Galleries 2015

Angelou is hailed as one of America’s greatest cultural heroes, one who set the stage for African Americans to write and talk about the black experience without apology or reservation. In truth, some critics have suggested that she helped pave the way for feminist writings of the 1970s and ’80s. Her reach has even extended into popular culture, with hip hop artists such as Common, Kanye West, and Tupac Shakur paying tribute and quoting her works in their songs.

Jean Moutoussamy-Ashe, “Maya Angelou,” 1993, silver print, (c) Swann Auction Galleries 2015

Collectors and admirers will now have a chance to see — and own — works from Dr. Angelou’s private collection, much of which has never been publicly exhibited. More than 50 works have been chosen to feature in a September 15 auction through Swann Auction Galleries in New York. For those who wish to view the collection, an exhibition is on view through September 11.

Elizabeth Catlett, “Two Generations,” 1979, lithograph, (c) Swann Auction Galleries 2015

A stunning highlight of the sale is a beautiful quilt by Faith Ringgold, who was commissioned by Oprah Winfrey to produce the piece for Angelou’s birthday in 1989. Titled “Maya’s Quilt of Life,” the piece consists of a central acrylic painting on canvas of Angelou as she strolls down a garden pathway. Two columns of text frame the central image as a gorgeous arrangement of triangular and diamond-shaped cuts of patterned fabric complete the quilt. Another feature is John Biggers’s “Kumasi Market” of 1962. As the work’s title indicates, the viewer finds the crowded scene of an African market. A hypnotizing rhythm of large reed hats dances across the center of the composition, taking the viewer on a journey from the left to the right side of the Masonite board. Graphic and illustrative in style, each figure is rendered individually, with masterful attention paid to the large and small. Further, the arrangement of yellow, brown, and red hues imparts a warm luminescence to the piece.
To learn more, visit Swann Auction Galleries.
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