A missing sculpture known as the "Holy Grail" of American Folk Art was found after nearly 90 years, when a collector's keen eye led to the discovery that was hidden in plain sight on a home's front porch.
The unassuming statute, with two stone-faced women seated next to one another, is simply carved. But at the American Folk Art Museum near Lincoln Center, it is anything but ordinary.
"This is a dream story to discover a William Edmondson out there," said the museum's Valerie Rousseau.
The artist behind this work is a man named William Edmondson. The son of slaves, he was one of few Black artists recognized for his work in the 1930s. But over the years, some of his statutes were lost, including the one called Mary and Martha.
Get Tri-state area news and weather forecasts to your inbox. Sign up for NBC New York newsletters.
Collectors had been searching for it for decades. Then folk art collector John Foster made an incredible chance discovery, spotting it on a front porch at a private home in St. Louis, Missouri.
"I was flabbergasted actually because I knew that I was looking at a piece of sculpture by the great William Edmondson," Foster said.
Foster knew he had stumbled on something that was not only special, but important. And that the public needed to see it.
"I said, 'I want you to know, I think you have a very important piece of American folk art,'" Foster said he told the homeowners. "I said 'Let me help you place this in a major museum in New York.'"
John learned that Martha and Mary had spent decades in the same family, passed down from one generation to the next — but they had no idea what they had.
"Finding an Edmundson that was missing from our history book was a real joy," Rousseau said.
William Edmondson didn’t start sculpting until he was 60 years old. He gained a following in the 1930s and sold his pieces for around $35 at the time, but they now they fetch more than $700,000.
Mary and Martha is on display at the American Folk Art Museum through September.