The Safari Club Bounce

Reflecting on Reno, looking ahead to Las Vegas, collectors say SCI is place for fine art.


As I strolled the makeshift avenues at the 2013 Convention, I saw a bullish sentiment for art that we haven’t seen in half a decade. SCI Artist of the Year, Fred Boyer’s “Limiting Out” had a retail price of $36,000, but commanded a closing bid of $43,000. Boyer, a lifelong hunter and bronzeman from Anaconda, MT, said that based upon demand at his booth, he had “an excellent show,” but the exclamation point for rebounding sales was the performance of “Limiting Out.”

“The sense I get is that more people are encouraged about the economy,” Boyer said. “Then again, Safari Club has always been a place where quality art is appreciated.”

With the retraction of the general art market, SCI has solidified its reputation for being the largest and premier venue for sporting art under one roof.

Day of Reckoning--Laurel Barbieri
Day of Reckoning–Laurel Barbieri

Laurel Barbieri first became an exhibitor at SCI in 2009, which was arguably the worst time to be trying to exert a presence.  “But every year that I’ve been at Safari Club, my sales have grown,” the 48-year-old from Portland, OR, says. “The people who have been purchasing my work have been in their 30s, 40s and 50s,” she says.  “What this tells me is that there’s a range of art connoisseurs. There are older collectors who prefer work that is more tightly rendered and then there’s a new generation of SCI members who are decorating their homes with more contemporary, more modern, expressions of the animals they love. I feel like, with these collectors, we’re growing up together and I look forward to my interactions with them in the decades ahead.”

A true youngster, Zimbabwe-born Maxine Bone, said SCI is her most important meeting with collectors every year. The daughter of artist Craig Bone, who once set a sales record at SCI auction for his work “Year of the Leopard,” Maxine and her painting sister, Lauren, are making names for themselves in America.

“I wasn’t expecting the show to go that well this year with all the uncertainty that exists out there, but it turned out to be great,” Bone said.  Her large oil, “Beneath the African Sun,” which portrays an African elephant, was one of several she sold.  “For my family, SCI is the main show we do and allows us to interact directly with the people who buy our work.”

The Old Guard--Walt Matia
The Old Guard–Walt Matia

SCI again attracted an international clientele, collectors from as far as away as the Middle East and Asia. As Fred Boyer attests, it’s not just big game that appeals to discriminating buyers.  His small-edition pheasant casting, “Flushed” brought avid interest from bird hunters. Not far away, Maria Hajic, senior curator with the Gerald Peters Gallery based in Santa Fe, was visiting with collectors interested in acquiring sporting sculptor Walt Matia’s new setter piece, “The Old Guard.”

“We value the diverse flavor that fine art always brings,” says SCI CEO Phil DeLone.  “We know that the tens of thousands of hunters and anglers who attend our convention are wild about art, and we appreciate that the sale of art has helped us fulfill our mission of protecting wildlife, its habitat and bolstering our Hunter Defense Fund.”

DeLone adds,  “SCI is all about honoring those who proudly view hunting as a lifestyle.  But it’s not limited just to people who hunt. What we’ve found over the years is that dramatic artistic portrayals of game animals, be they the Big Five from Africa or iconic species in North and South America, Europe or Asia, family members enjoy having art in their lives as much as the hunters do.”

DeLone and SCI president-elect Craig Kauffman made a point of meeting with as many artists and gallery owners as possible.  A couple of takeaways from SCI 2013:

First, it’s now a buyer’s market for collectible art. Rising prices for works by many living artists have actually slowed and deals are there to be had. Second, many painters and sculptors, knowing that not as many people can afford large pieces, are making more smaller works available for sale. Third, hunters are waking up to the fact that original art is a perfect heirloom to pass down to the next generation. Fourth, there’s a dramatic shift occurring among collectors who are choosing original paintings and sculptures over limited edition prints.

For readers, you’ll be seeing more art-related feature stories and interviews in Safari publications, DeLone says.  Among some of the other possibilities in the works: a brand new miniature art show, following the trends of similar shows launched by museums and galleries, featuring works by some of the world’s top wildlife artists who happen to be SCI regulars; a pre-convention luncheon for artists and galleries operating art booths; and a special “artwalk map” that will help art lovers navigate the conference facilities in Las Vegas.

“We’ve had an excellent run in Reno.  The city’s been a great partner. We expect even bigger things next year in Las Vegas,“ DeLone says.  “If you are a wildlife artist and a person who collects wildlife art, we want to re-affirm the fact that Safari Club is the place where you need to be.” DeLone has just one recommendation to the SCI faithful: spread the word.– Todd Wilkinson

Limiting Out–Fred Boyer

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