Imagine landing upon the estate auction of an artist whose work in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s was created with the help of an atom smasher, also known as a particle accelerator. This very thing happened when the estate auction of the late Alyce Rothlein Simon (1925-2011) was held in Mocksville, North Carolina, in the spring of 2012.
At First Glance
A close friend called one afternoon to tell me about an upcoming estate auction that had interesting and diverse pieces of art. When I viewed the online auction, I was intrigued by acrylic shapes filled with intricate designs as well as incredible pieces of art that consisted of oil on canvas, water color, paintings and drawings—all created by Alyce Rothlein Simon. I quickly showed the listings to my wife, Tina, and she, too, was in awe. Since we love unique items, this sale and its merchandise were right up our alley.
After the short trip on a dreary and chilly Saturday morning, we arrived at the sale. While walking up to the 1980s contemporary house, I quickly spotted a huge yin-and-yang sculpture approximately 12 feet long by 5 feet wide made out of wood near the garage. The sculpture wasn’t photographed for the auction listing online, so I was pleasantly surprised. As we continued to walk through the sale and scan the items, we were on sensory overload. Tina and I quickly realized that the sale was going to be one of the most amazing we’d experienced.
Items ranged from Simon’s personal jewelry and collectibles to art she created, as well as huge sculptures she designed. Then we saw the array of incredible acrylic sculptures that Simon blasted using the particle accelerator. Ranging in size, the clear and colored pieces of acrylic had been meticulously blasted with nuclear energy to create amazing forms and designs within the acrylic.
Starting a Collection
Each piece was incredible and intriguing—the thought of an individual designing art with atomic energy settled the matter: We had to own several pieces. Before arriving, Tina and I didn’t have a plan as to what we were going to buy, except for an oil on canvas painting that was featured in the auction listing online. To our disappointment, the piece had gone missing the night before, but we quickly found several other items, including an oil on board painting, that were all just as incredible.
As the sale began, we had to quickly decide what items we were going to bid on. Fortunately, the sale started off with jewelry, the items most of the dealers had come to purchase. This gave us time to gather our thoughts and forge a plan.
A few acrylic sculptures started to hit the auction block, and suddenly our collection began! Due to the quantity of items at the sale, the auctioneer deemed it necessary to run two auctions, one in the front of the house and one in the back. Tina and I split up, with her at the front of the house to buy the paintings and drawings while I followed the second auctioneer around back to the box lots of acrylic.
After acquiring several large boxes of acrylic sculptures, a toolbox Simon stored her extra pieces of atomic jewelry in, an extensive video collection of her works and several other items, I headed back to rejoin Tina. As I circled around the front, the auctioneer was selling off the huge yin-and-yang sculpture, so I quickly joined in and won the massive piece. When the sale was over, Tina and I realized we had amassed more than our van could carry.
A Newfound Love
The trips we made back to the estate sale were well worth it, and digging through our treasures at home was as exhilarating as the sale itself. Every piece we purchased was amazing. While it is hard to say what our favorite piece is, the acrylic sculptures blasted with the atom smasher are remarkable. They produce truly amazing forms that are breathtaking at any angle.
As a result of the auction, we have researched more about Simon and truly appreciate the eclectic and unique style she introduced to the art world. Today, several of the atomic acrylic pieces, paintings as well as the drawing are displayed in our midcentury home. We are currently looking for the perfect location to display our yin-and-yang sculpture.
Chad Baker is a knowledgeable midcentury enthusiast who has been digging for mid mod treasure for more than 10 years. As a result, he has a plethora of stories about rescuing, restoring and scoring great finds. Along with his wife, Tina, Chad lives in a stunning North Carolina home that the couple has lovingly preserved. For more on Chad, visit antiquefanparts.com.