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Native American Art

Alice Kaufman | December 9th, 2013


This 9" tall San Ildefonso sienna and black lidded vase by Tony Da (with a hand-carved wooden finial on the lid) sold to a private collector for $18,750 (est. $8000/10,000).


This 22¾" high Apache olla, decorated with geometric, human, and animal figures, sold for $22,500 (est. $10,000/15,000) to dealer and basket specialist Terry DeWald of Tucson.


This Classic Navajo manta, 3'10" x 4'4", sold for $125,000 (est. $80,000/120,000) to a phone bidder, a longtime collector. Said Jim Haas, “I finally had something good enough for him to bid on.” The catalog described it as finely woven in diamond and diagonal twill with a variegated blue center flanked by red (various natural dyes) and in original condition.

Bonhams, San Francisco

Photos courtesy Bonhams

At Bonhams in San Francisco on December 9, 2013, sales totaled about $2.1 million (including buyers’ premiums) for Native American art, including antique and more contemporary. The room was crowded with dealers bidding for themselves and for their clients (at least one had multiple paddles). Collectors outbid the dealers for several lots.

The Native American art specialist for Bonhams, Jim Haas, said he “expected better prices at mid- to lower levels.  The number of buyers remains somewhat diminished. We did have new buyers at this auction, but they were veteran collectors who had never bought at Bonhams, not twenty- or thirty-something Silicon Valley people.”

Three Okvik ivory carvings were featured in the auction (eight pages of the catalog were devoted to pictures and text about them). All three had come from St. Lawrence Island, are dated 200 B.C.-A.D. 100, and were consigned as “property from an Alaskan Native family.” This was the first time natives of St. Lawrence Island, located in the Bering Sea and geographically closer to Russia than the U.S., have sold directly through an auction house instead of to dealers. Independent art consultant Vincent Plescia, who brokered the deal for the Eskimos, called the three pieces “gifts from the ancestors—ancient stuff—the riches of ceremonial culture buried in the ground.”

Two of the very sculptural pieces sold: lot 1121 sold for $197,000 and lot 1122 sold for $87,500. The third, lot 1123, “a pair of extremely rare and fine Okvik wood snow goggles” used to protect eyes from solar glare, did not sell. Haas thought they had been “over-cleaned. The application of buffed wax gave the goggles a uniform, glowing patina, not what tribal art collectors look for.” Haas expects future consignments from St. Lawrence Island families.

One of the stars of the auction, a Navajo Ute-style first-phase blanket, estimated at $300,000/500,000, did not attract a single bid after Bonhams opened the bidding at $200,000. The blanket had what one dealer called “massive restoration.” Haas told M.A.D. that “textile mavens” told him that the blanket “lacked the pizzazz it ought to have at that level.”

In June 2012, a similar blanket with (one assumes) a lot more pizzazz sold in a Pasadena, California, auction to dealer Donald Ellis for $1.8 million at John Moran Auctioneers.

Million-dollar blanket aside, Haas said of current market conditions, “This is a new age, and auction appraisers have to lower their sights.”

The next Native American Art auction at Bonhams in San Francisco will be held on June 2. For more information, call (415) 861-7500 or visit (www.bonhams.com).

This 3" long Okvik ivory head, dated 200 B.C.-A.D. 100, sold for $197,000 (est. $150,000/250,000) to dealer David Cook of Denver, Colorado, bidding at the auction with his phone at his ear. (It appears on the Bonhams on-line price list as though this lot did not sell, but we have confirmation as of press time that it surely did.)

This 3¼" long Okvik ivory head dated 200 B.C.-A.D. 100 sold to a telephone buyer for $87,500 (est. $70,000/100,000).

This 19th-century Navajo third-phase chief’s blanket that a collector at the auction called “stunning” sold for $100,000 (est. $40,000/60,000) to a private collector who is “new to me,” said Haas, who said the blanket had “superb restoration.” It is 4'6" x 6'.

This Navajo Late Classic era (circa 1880) banded blanket, 6'6" x 4'5", sold for $11,875 (est. $3000/4000) to an East Coast dealer on the Internet.

This 7' x 4'3" Classic indigo Navajo serape, with a Fred Harvey Company seal and tag and estimated at $20,000/30,000, sold to a phone bidder for $68,750.


Originally published in the April 2014 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2014 Maine Antique Digest

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