When Maya Angelou passed away last year at the age of 86, it was a death that touched the nation. A key voice for civil rights, a writer taught in every good school, Angelou was a national treasure.
And now some of her treasures are being offered to the public to spread a few of the influences that affected Angelou. Nearly 50 artworks from Angelou’s personal collection have been consigned to the Swann Galleries Auction House’s African-American Fine Art Department by Angelou’s estate. Her son, Guy Johnson, wrote in the auction catalog that he “hopes that the art which added color and character to her daily life does the same for others.”
The collection is largely focused on female artists and African culture and is expected to bring in more than half a million dollars. It includes unique pieces such as a painted story quilt by artist Faith Ringgold. The quilt was commissioned as a gift for Angelou herself by Oprah Winfrey for Angelou’s 69th birthday, and is a portrait of the writer among flowers, embroidered with excerpts from her works. It Is considered the keynote of the auction, and is the only sample of Ringgold’s art ever to come for auction.
Also included are works by Elizabeth Catlett, Phoebe Beasley, muralist John Bigger, Romare Bearden, and Johnathan Green. Many of the paintings feature scenes from African countries or focus exclusively on people of color.
Earlier in September, the contents of Angelou’s Winston-Salem home were sold during a three-day estate sale. Her personal papers, which include letters to and from Malcom X and James Baldwin, have been consigned to Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, a research unit of the New York Public Library open by appointment only. The art auction is the last step by her family of laying her property to rest.
The artworks will be on view at Swann Galleries from September 9 through 11. The auction will be held on September 15.