Purchase Story

American Indian Art Show: Marin

San Rafael, California

As at every show, there were winners and not winners. At the 34th annual American Indian Art Show: Marin held February 17 and 18 in San Rafael, California, the balance seemed to tilt toward the nots. Many dealers were not willing to be quoted about their sales at the show (although all praised the crowd that attended), and several were pessimistic about the future of the show itself.

Nampeyo specialist/Santa Fe, New Mexico, gallerist Steve Elmore asked $1950 for this 11" diameter plate by Hopi artist Mark Tahbo (1958-2017) that was bought at the show by an Oakland collector. He pointed out that there were fewer exhibitors than last year but lots of qualified buyers, “a steady group of collectors,” for this year’s “fewer items, higher prices.” He added, “Nampeyo is still popular as people begin to understand the extent of her work.”

At the booth of Transitional Arts, Prescott, Arizona, this 8" diameter basket by “the best-known” Chemehuevi weaver, Mary Snyder, 1920-25, is 6½" tall with an 8" diameter and was priced at $5500. Dealer Robert Seng sold mostly jewelry and a few baskets, and he believed the show’s reduced hours (Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.) “concentrated the crowd. I felt like we were busy all day.”

New York City dealer John Molloy was asking $7500 for this 22" high doll made by Rhonda Holy Bear, whose work was the focus of a show at Molloy’s gallery and is featured in several museums. A caption for a video on YouTube of Holy Bear posted by the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art reads, “Her Lakota dolls are based on traditional forms, but she has extended this in terms of their scale and remarkable intricacy. She is one of a small number of artists who work in this genre creating master works for the art market.” At the show, Molloy reported “better than expected” sales, especially of Northwest Coast material and kachinas. (“I wish I’d brought more Northwest Coast.”) “There is a committed group of West Coast collectors,” Molloy added, “who come to this show only, never to Santa Fe or Arizona. Long may they run!”

Robert Galvez of Glendora, California, was asking $255 for each of these colorful 1930s Mexican textiles from the Saltillo region. Each measures 6' x 3½'.

Santa Fe, New Mexico, dealer Christopher Selser, who has been coming to the show as an exhibitor and a buyer for decades, said the show seemed to be “struggling,” which he saw as a result of “the continued reduction of participating exhibitors.” Some dealers actually praised the smaller number of competing dealers as a boon to their sales, adding “don’t quote me.” But a shortage of “quality material,” Selser said, “plus the expense of travel, hotel, as well as fees to exhibit, makes show attendance a shaky proposition for some longtime dealers, several of whom were obviously missing this year.” Selser, who came to buy and sell on the sidelines of the show, did “OK, well enough to come back next year,” but he bemoaned the attrition of higher-end dealers.

Show producer/exhibitor Kim Martindale, who also runs a gallery in Venice, California, said the show was smaller than it had ever been—“ninety-five exhibitors, and we’ve never been less than a hundred. And to come back next year, we can’t dip below ninety exhibitors—it wouldn’t make sense.” But with the infusion of new buyers that he saw at the show, Martindale believes that the show is on a trajectory to rebuild.

Tucson, Arizona, dealer Terry DeWald was asking $25,000 for this circa 1910 Panamint polychrome basket attributed to well-known weaver Isabel Hanson (d. 1964). The basket is 23" diameter and made from willow, devil’s claw, and red yucca root.

Fresno, California, dealer Bryan Taylor was asking $1800 for this infant’s vest, Sioux, 1890-1900. Taylor was “busy” with “lots of people” at the booth.

Susan Swift of Santa Fe, New Mexico, was asking $2400 for the Navajo bandolier bag, 1900-25, left; $2600 for the Pueblo all-natural nugget turquoise necklace with jaclas, center; and $2400 for the Pueblo shell heishi turquoise nugget necklace with jaclas, right.

Kachina specialist Barry Walsh of Buffalo Barry’s Indian Art, Holden, Massachusetts, was asking $3000 for this 15" tall 1920s Hopi tableta depicting a Hopi maiden holding “sunflowers? baskets? cloud symbols?” Walsh had a “pretty good” show, selling 11 kachinas and the same number of pieces of jewelry (and the show hadn’t closed yet). He believes the market is “recovering from 2008 and the next few years after that,” and added, “It is imperative to know your material, because customers want to be educated.”

At the booth of B. Pettit Antiques, Eureka, California, these 1890-1900 Sioux moccasins cost $800. The booth had “excellent basket sales and sold a lot of rugs, all to one dealer.”

After a blizzard of advertising, social media exposure, and PR, he said that attendance was about the same as last year, but he thought the crowd was “more excited about what they were seeing, which made some exhibitors feel that there were more people at the show this year.” Martindale added, “Some of the new people were exactly who I was aiming for. I sold to people I hadn’t sold to before, and other dealers said the same. We brought in a group of brand new potential customers for the business.”

As an example, Martindale’s 1900-10 third-phase Navajo weaving attracted a couple—not collectors, new to him—who were looking for something unique for a wall. “They were struck by the piece, walked the show, came back, and said they’d think it over. I thought then it was great that they were even at the show. They went to their car, talked about it for thirty minutes, came back, and bought it. They are exactly the type of person the Native American art business is looking for: homeowners in their forties who are interested in a new type of art.”

The 2019 show is scheduled for February 15 and 16. For more information, go to (www.marinshow.com).

This “silky soft” 4' x 6' circa 1875 Germantown chief’s blanket variant with elements of both second- and third-phase Navajo blanket design cost $75,000 at the booth of Weisman Gallery, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania. The blanket is woven with Germantown yarn in natural salmon and red colors. Steve Weisman reported a “very good” Saturday.

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, dealer John Krena had this pair of kachina watercolors by Anthony “Tony” Edaakie that was commissioned by Zuni trading post legend C.G. Wallace. The handmade frames have Navajo woven cords. After his time at Zuni, Wallace went on to build the De Anza Motor Lodge on Route 66 (Central Avenue) in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and he commissioned Edaakie to paint two murals depicting the Shalako festival for the motel.

Show producer and Venice, California, gallerist Kim Martindale was asking $12,000 for this 5' x 5' Germantown chief’s blanket.

Philip Garaway of Venice, California, was asking $18,000 for Canyon with River, an oil by Conrad Buff (1886-1975), 813/16 " x 2½" (sight size), from the Garry Shandling collection (Garaway handled Shandling’s estate). At the show, he sold “lots of little things; activity but no big-ticket items.”

A group of bags made from vintage Navajo rug fragments and premium leather varied in price from $88 to $2700 at the booth of PCco. Handbags, Oakland, California. How was business? “We had three to four times as many sales as last year. We’re happy.”

This 11½" diameter Mimbres-style platter by Emma Lewis Mitchell (b. 1931, daughter of Lucy Lewis) cost $950 at the booth of Summerhouse Indian Art, Sausalito, California. Dealer Carol Hayes said, “We made some good sales but very few.” (Ed. note: Sadly, Carol Hayes had a medical emergency just after the close of the Marin show and passed away on February 21. See her obituary in the April M.A.D., p. 5-A.)

Originally published in the May 2018 issue of Maine Antique Digest.

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