An auction of works from the collection of Maya Angelou more than doubled its presale expectations last month when it realised $1.3m (est $400,000-$630,000). Angelou was known for many things: she was a civil rights activist; an acclaimed author whose 1969 memoir, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, made literary history as the first non-fiction bestseller by an African American woman; a Pulitzer prize-nominated poet; a celebrated actress; and a key member of two presidential committees. She also wrote and recited a poem at President Bill Clinton ‘s inauguration in 1993, and was awarded the highest civilian honour in the US, the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama in 2010.
Less well known were her activities as an art collector. By the time she died in 2014, Angelou owned more than 500 works of art by artists including Jacob Lawrence, Romare Bearden and Melvin Edwards. More than 40 of these works were offered at a special sale at Swann Auction Galleries on 15 September. John Biggers’ Kumasi Market (1962), sold for $389,000, well above the estimate of $100,000 to $150,000, and a record for the artist. Faith Ringgold’s Maya’s Quilt of Life (1989)—which had been commissioned by Oprah Winfrey for Angelou’s birthday—was bought by the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Arkansas, for $461,000 (est $150,000-$250,000). It is due to go on show there shortly.