Property of Duke descendant, philanthropist to be auctioned

Jul. 29, 2013 @ 06:12 PM

Antiques, art and other items owned by the late philanthropist, Durham leader and Duke descendant Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans will be auctioned next month at the Washington Duke Inn.

Semans died in January 2012 at 91. She was a direct descendent of the founder of Duke University and, among other roles, served as the city’s mayor pro tem and as a trustee at Duke University.  

She helped to found the Durham Arts Council and the N.C. School of the Arts, and was known as a champion for education, civil rights and affordable housing.

“Mrs. Semans was one of North Carolina’s most ardent patrons of the arts and education, and we are truly honored to host this historic event on behalf of her family, and to present to discerning collectors some of the fine objects that enriched her life, and the lives of her distinguished family, by their beauty and artistry,” said Andrew Brunk, president of Asheville-based Brunk Auctions, in a news release.

The family has kept several sentimental items, but would like the remainder to go to “good homes where they will be appreciated as they have been for generations before,” Aaron Edwards, a spokesman for Brunk Auctions, said in an email.

Planned Aug. 25 following preview events on Aug. 24, the auction will include antiques, fine art and decorative arts collected across five generations of the Duke family, according to the release.

Items to be auctioned include paintings by artists such as the American painter Thomas Anshutz, 18th and 19th century Chinese porcelains and jades, French antique furnishings and an inlaid art case Steinway grand piano, according to the release.

The company is still researching and cataloguing the items, according to Edwards, so a pre-auction estimate of their total value was not yet available.

That information is expected to be public once an online catalogue is published at, he said. The catalogue will include information about the items in the context of the homes they occupied.

The items come from homes members of the Duke family lived in over the course of more than a century, according to the release.

That includes items from the mid-19th century-era Duke Homestead; a townhouse at 1009 Fifth Ave., N.Y., that was built in 1901; a former Durham home remembered as “Four Acres” on West Chapel Hill Street, and the residences known as “Pinecrest” and “Les Terrasses” in Durham’s Forest Hills neighborhood.

Edwards said Les Terrasses was Semans’ home from the late 1940s until she died last year. He also said it’s where her seven children grew up next door to their grandmother, Mary Duke Biddle, who lived at Pinecrest until her death in 1960.

The auction Aug. 25 will be open to the public. There will be online as well as telephone and absentee bidding.

A public preview of the auction items will be Aug. 24. After the afternoon public preview, there will be a private reception preview.

The private preview is by invitation only, Edwards said. Reservations for the private reception may be made by contacting Brunk Auctions. Proceeds from the $50-a-person donation will benefit the N.C. School of the Arts.