UVA Has an Outsized Presence at Famed Sotheby’s Auction House

August 25, 2023 By Shannan McCance, bma6yg@virginia.edu Shannan McCance, bma6yg@virginia.edu

When Frankie Mananzan landed a job at the esteemed Sotheby’s auction house after graduating from the University of Virginia in 2021, you might forgive her for feeling a little daunted. After all, the company is known for auctioning unique items and national treasures, with prices often reaching six or seven figures.

But the nervousness abated when she ran into another Wahoo working there. And another. And another. And another.

In fact, at least 16 UVA alumni work at Sotheby’s, occupying both higher-up and entry-level positions. A majority work in the New York office, which has around 500 employees. Mananzan’s junior job title is “pre-sale coordinator” for Americana and European furniture.

The UVA connections were exciting for her.

“I didn’t know anyone on the Sotheby’s side of things when I applied, but once I was hired, I discovered that there is a significant UVA cohort,” Mananzan said.

Calvine Harvey is a part of that community in New York. A 2008 UVA alumna, Harvey is a veteran at Sotheby’s, working as a specialist in the Old Masters department. She said the UVA presence at Sotheby’s comes back to the connection and support between alumni.

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“My boss used to always say he loves hiring people from UVA, because they’re very smart, but they’re also really interested and well-rounded,” Harvey said. “They speak well, and they’re professional, and it just is an all-around great school to hire from.”

And being able to work with fellow alumni, like Mananzan, has been wonderful, she said.

Mananzan not only found an unexpected community at Sotheby’s, but she also connects her auction-house work with her student experiences.

At UVA, while working at the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library, Mananzan gained an appreciation for the kind of objects she would be working with in the future at Sotheby’s. Although the things she worked with in Special Collections weren’t exactly Americana furniture pieces, all of them had at least one trait in common: being old and historical.

“I loved old things. I loved the opportunity to handle books, manuscripts, materials, ephemera that were, I mean, frankly, centuries old. It was such an honor to work in that collections holding,” she said.

Mananzan giving a tour of the Fralin Art Museum to two guests
When Mananzan, right, was at UVA, she served as a docent at The Fralin Museum of Art. Later at Sotheby’s, she discovered a host of fellow Wahoos at the renowned auction house. (Photo by Dan Addison, UVA Communications)

And at Sotheby’s, she handles similar centuries-old objects, working with specialists and buyers to ensure a sale runs smoothly.

The auction house has many different areas of specialty, ranging from contemporary art to jewelry to sneakers. Mananzan isn’t limited to viewing only the objects of her department; she also gets to see what other specialists are selling, including some particularly famous pieces.

“I think something that’s so delightful is being able to walk through the storage holdings,” Mananzan said, “like when we saw Princess Diana’s dress in January. … It was in the photo studio, on a mannequin [with] floodlights.” In that same room, there was a spacesuit sitting in an open storage crate.

In her Americana furniture department, she works with high-end tables and chairs that are older than America itself.

“The fact that it’s all here in one place and I get to work those objects – I mean, that’s the dream,” she said.

Her time as a docent for The Fralin Museum of Art aided her transition into the Sotheby’s scene, as well. The public speaking skills she gained from giving tours at the museum translated to her job of talking to clients during a sale.

Calvine Harvey standing in front of a victorian painting

Calvine Harvey, a 2008 graduate, is a specialist in the Old Masters department, and sometimes appears in videos detailing the works of art up for sale. She said Sotheby’s supervisors are always keen on hiring UVA grads because “it is just an all-around great school to hire from.” (Screen capture from Sotheby’s video)

Additionally, the sense of belonging to an arts community at The Fralin meant “it definitely wasn’t a culture shock coming here, because there are so many people of that same kind,” she said. Some of the other alumni at the company were docents during their times as students, too.

With the UVA cohort at Sotheby’s, Charlottesville stories are easy to come by.

“It’s just really heart-warming to reminisce. Like, ‘When was the last time you were at Asados?’” she said. “Things like that, a shared experience within a company that is in itself a different larger, shared experience.”

And when a UVA club reached out to Sotheby’s wanting to host an event there, she was able to work directly with fellow alumni at the company to help. 

“To have a sense of community within the company … that’s not something that everyone has,” Mananzan said. “It’s so wonderful and unique to have a micro-community within Sotheby’s.”

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Mike Mather

Managing Editor University Communications