As an Auctioneer, one of the questions I am asked when I present a new auction is  “Who were the sellers and why are they selling?” So, from time to time, I ask my sellers if we can share their story because I think it matters. In this month’s auction, we are selling a nice collection of items from across the globe. My seller’s journey took them to several continents, mostly off the beaten path. Here is a snippet of their amazing journey.

Meet Dr. and Mrs. Plummer and their children Carrie and Ian. Mike Plummer is a retired Vanderbilt Professor of Mathematics and Sara is retired from the Nursing field having served in the Military and the private sector. They were both born in Ohio; Mike in a manufacturing town and Sara in a farming town.  Subsequently, each landed in New Haven, Connecticut around the same time where Mike had accepted a post-doctoral position at Yale. They met and married, then moved to New York.

The late 60’s in New York was quite a creative time and place; after all, it was the 60’s. Mike was teaching at City College and Sara was teaching Nursing in the city hospital system. Much of their off time was spent visiting the art galleries and attending exhibitions in Greenwich Village. They began to acquire some of their art pieces; in particular two Brutalist Art Sculptures we are offering in the auction as well as the John Langford Acrylic on canvas and Rya rugs.

In the early 70’s they moved to Nashville so Mike could begin his career at Vanderbilt University. Sara worked as a nurse at Vanderbilt Hospital. Dr. and Mrs. Plummer began their academic travel through the IREX fellowship program, which is a global and development organization. One of their first assignments was to Budapest, Hungary, which was during the old communist days.

At that time, their children were 15 months and 5 years old. Sara said food was scarce and since there was no refrigeration food would spoil quickly, so she had to shop for food everyday. They ate whatever was available, usually salami and bread. On their first visit, they were only allowed the leave the country twice.  Sara said, “It was certainly a unique experience to live between the East and the West behind the Iron Curtain.”

It was in Hungary they acquired some of the religious Icons, textiles and porcelain you’ll see in the auction. Some were acquired at local shops while other pieces were acquired privately.

As mentioned, their travels were driven by Mike’s work as a Professor of Math. They spent a year in Bonn, West Germany working at an Institute, and took advantage of living abroad by traveling to several different countries. On one assignment to Germany, they actually shipped a camper van to Germany so they could travel the continent.

In their travels, some of the countries they visited include East and West Germany, Poland, Romania, France, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Austria, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and The Netherlands acquiring artwork, textiles and collectibles along the way.

After Europe, Dr. Plummer was presented with an opportunity to go to New Zealand as a guest professor through an acquaintance he had met in Scotland. This fellow colleague had completely immersed himself into the local culture. “Tourism was scarce at the time”, Mike stated, “We had the unique opportunity to experience New Zealand from a local point of view”.  This is where the Plummer’s interest in Aboriginal Art and Maori Art began.

They visited Australia and New Zealand many times. They acquired most of the wood vessels along the Western coastline; several of which are being offered in our auction. We are also selling a Didgeridoo gifted to them thought to be made in 1943.  Other areas they visited included Perth, Darwin, and the Melville and Bathurst Islands, home of the indigenous group known as the Tiwi people. After spending some time back in the States, they were off to Africa.

Their first trip to Africa was spent mainly in South Africa, where they visited Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban. It was here their interest in African art began. The tribal dancing mask in the auction was purchased in Cape Town. The green tribal beaded choker in the auction was purchased in Durban. Ms. Plummer told me in Durban she was witness to an actual “Witchdoctor” but was afraid to take any pictures. She and Mike also found the colorful baskets made from telephone wire here, also offered in the auction.
Dr. Plummer was invited back to Africa a second time on behalf of the United Nations. The kids were older now, but still in tow. He taught at in Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe. At the time, Zimbabwe was in between revolutions, and not a very friendly place to live. They also had a hard time with the local wildlife. Monkeys were a constant problem getting indoors wreaking havoc and the Rhinos outside were particularly unpredictable and dangerous. However, Zimbabwe was also where Dr. Plummer’s favorite piece was purchased – a Verdite Shona 2-faced hand carving.

After once again spending some time back in the States, they decided to travel back to Africa, this time to Namibia where The Tropic of Capricorn passes through. Dr. Plummer described this area as, “Where the sand dunes constantly shifted and roads were not paved”. By now it was just the two of them. The kids were grown and on their own.  They visited the town of Swakopmund in Namibia and saw a woman sitting on a little stool weaving a textile. Sara said she bartered with the woman and they came to an agreement. She came back later to pick it up once the woman had finished weaving the piece. Well, it’s been hanging in their home until now. You can find it in the auction as lot #622.

So, now you know a little bit more about the story behind the stuff. While there are more stories to tell than I can write in this blog post, I’ll leave that to the Plummer family. Please visit the auction on our website at to bid on some items in this collection.

Vizlat! Auf Wiedersehen! Au Revoir! Ciao!