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Private Collection: Estate of Ronald and Hortense Clyne

When Ronald Clyne learned to draw at the tender age of eight, he may not have known that he had already found his life’s calling. Born in 1925, the Chicago native sold his first drawing when he was just 15. It was published in the November 1941 issue of a fantasy and science fiction magazine called Fantastic Adventures. That single cartoon opened the door to commissions of artwork for several other fan magazines and book jackets, mainly in the horror, science fiction and fantasy genres. After his family moved to Beverly Hills, Clyne honed his skills doing work for the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society.

The young man remained a mostly unknown artist until a certain Moses Asch, founder of Folkways Records, offered him the opportunity to design album covers for his company. Years later, Clyne remembered it this way: “Moe asked if I’d do a cover for him. He knew that I was doing record covers for other people. I said sure, I’d be glad to, and I did that first Scottish folk songs cover and he continued giving me more assignments.”

Though limited by company budget constraints, Clyne still managed to produce striking and memorable album designs for Folkways in earthy, monotone or two-tone colors. He skillfully melded typography, layout and image to make Folkways covers stand out from the others. The artist had quite a body of work under his belt by the time the folk revolution of the 1960s was in full swing, and his impressive portfolio – over 500 album covers – includes artwork for the likes of Pete Seeger, Lead Belly, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Woodie Guthrie, Memphis Slim, Cisco Houston and so many more.

A Diverse Treasure Trove

Clyne and his wife Hortense moved into a townhouse in the Willowtown area of Brooklyn Heights, New York in 1965. The residence would serve as their home, studio and gallery for the next several decades. Clyne died in 2006, and Hortense passed away in November 2018. The couple’s home yielded a treasure trove of Oceanic and mid-century modern furniture and furnishings. Clyne’s love of Oceanic art led to the study and collecting of items from such faraway places as Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea -- colorful masks decorated with feathers, carved wooden shields and heads, vases and woven headdresses, and other works of art from the South Pacific.

Indeed, the décor of the Brooklyn domicile presented quite a contrast: the intricate and earthy forms of Oceanic pieces flanked modern art by John Loveless, Power Boothe and Clyne himself. The disparate styles complemented instead of clashed, and both fit in nicely with mid-century classics like Poul Kjærholm's glass-topped, chrome-plated coffee table and black leather sofas by Danish designers Jørgen Kastholm and Preben Fabricius.

The collection also includes laced armchairs, an Angelo Mangiarotti clock, books on primitive and Oceanic art, a Jens H. Quistgaard chips-and-dip platter and several works by artist Robert Yoder. Pieces by Clyne himself include Reclining Portrait, Invocation, Queens, Small Landscape, Reclining Woman, Nude Woman and Medieval Figures.

Clyne has been gone for more than a decade, but the mark he left on graphic art and album design is indelible. His eclectic taste in furnishings and art reveals a unique and multidimensional personality. Sotheby’s Home is honored to offer items from the Ronald and Hortense Clyne Collection.