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Career Connections: Art Auctioneer

7 minutes

Art auctioneering combines content skills-- knowledge of products to be sold-- with process skills-- the ability to appraise, then sell those products-- combined with a high level of financial literacy. I am the lead auctioneer. I am the auctioneer. I am the head appraiser. I am responsible for cataloging and overseeing the data entry. I do estate visits. I'm doing appraisals. I'm trying to train people, but I'm also in charge of the staff. I'm like fearless leader.

(female host) Deba Gray's career began with formal art school training. In my second year at the Cleveland Art Institute, I lost my scholarship and I decided I was going to go that journey and find apprentice work. I worked in steel. I worked in cement. I did some traveling. I went to Israel, did a kibbutz, did some crazy things. When I came back, I called the local auction house and asked if they needed any gofer help. They were like, "What?" And I'm like, "I'll do anything. I love art." I started off on the phones, and I worked answering the phones, and then they said, "Can you help on the floor?" I'm like, "Yeah," and I worked my way up, and I learned the most at an auction house. I've worked for three auction houses. After Wolf's, I worked at Leslie Hindman in Chicago, and then at Sotheby's. After three auction houses, it was time for me to start my own. You learn by touching it and by talking to the old-timers who collected it, and you do these estates. I would shadow the experts, and I started learning. Now, you also have to go to an auctioneer school. While jumping in feet first at an auction house was Deba's path to art auctioneering, there's a formal educational process to follow. Mark Walton is a professional auctioneer who operates a school that teaches auctioneering, licensed by the State of Ohio. To get ready to become an auctioneer, you have to attend an approved auctioneering school. Once you've passed that school, you need to secure a sponsoring auctioneer who will take you under their wing for a year. You take a written test to become an apprentice auctioneer, which is its own license, and you'll apprentice for no less than 12 months. In that apprenticeship period, you have to participate as a caller in 12 different auctions. Once you've fulfilled the requirements of your apprenticeship-- and you must be bonded as an apprentice and as an auctioneer-- you fill out your bond and paperwork and take the auctioneer's exam. The exam's two-part, written and oral. The oral portion is selling an item in front of the state auctioneer's commission. They want to see what you sound like, see your poise and your pacing, do you know where it sold to, how much it sold for. They make sure you're competent in what you're doing before you can work as a licensed auctioneer. Auctioneers are often small business owners, but some work under contract with established auction houses. They have both content skills-- the knowledge of the products they sell, like pieces of art, antiques, real estate, or automobiles-- and process skills-- the ability to get the best price at auction for items they're selling.

(Walton) Some people are toy experts, some are experts in antiques. And they'll generally gravitate towards their expertise and combine that with the process skills they learn in marketing and advertising, how to conduct the auction, how to account for it. They combine the content and process skills and have a marketable business that differentiates itself from others. In Ohio, it takes 80 actual classroom hours to become a licensed auctioneer, in addition to the apprenticeship requirement. To prepare for auctioneer school, you should take business and marketing-oriented courses and any course that would give you knowledge about the special types of auctions you might run. Deba Gray's specialty is art auctioneering. An auction house is like an emergency room for art on a full moon on a Friday night. It's crazy. We go at such a pace that it's not for everybody. But we're where it's at. We have our finger on the pulse of the art world, and literally the art world, because we're tied globally. But we're also dealing with every type of art.

(female auctioneer) Fair warning. Sold. 4,400 to Live Auctioneers. The auction world is based on the five-- maybe it's even six D's now. And it's death, debt, divorce, downsizing, dealers, dementia. And these are all really crazy situations. Not the dealers so much, but the dementia and the downsizing and the divorce. People can't take it with them, so we are like an island, and they bring it to the referee. And there's a journey. When you're done using that art or furniture, and it's time to bring it to the next owner, this is the passageway. Auction means fair market and what a willing buyer and a willing seller can come to an agreement upon. It's those two people that decide. I'm like a referee between the buyer and the seller. It's very different than retail. Retail is what the market will bear. It's not necessarily fair. Fair warning and selling for one hundred dollars. Sold. And finally-- If you can earn your stripes in the auction world, you can start your own gallery or work in a museum, or you could start your own auction house, like I did. Running art or other kinds of auctions can be a rewarding, often exciting career, especially for people with entrepreneurial ambition and selling skills.

Funding to purchase and make this educational production accessible was provided by the U.S. Department of Education.

PH:1-800-USA-LEARN (V) or WEB: www.ed.gov.

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Art auctioneers price and sell a wide variety of items. They usually work at an auction house and lead the bidding for live auctions. Part of the "Career Connections" series.

Media Details

Runtime: 7 minutes

Career Connections
Episode 1
5 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
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Episode 2
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