Purchase Story

Lizard Man Sells for $43,050

Skinner, Inc. Boston, Massachusetts

Photos courtesy Skinner, Inc.

American Indian and ethnographic art attracted bidders on December 2, 2017, to Skinner’s Boston gallery, where bidders came and went according to the kind of objects on the block. The highlight was a 19th-century anthropomorphic figure of a lizard man that brought $43,050 (includes buyer’s premium).

A 19th-century Easter Island Moai Moko, a carved wood anthropomorphic figure of a lizard man, became the highlight of the sale when it sold on the phone for $43,050. The 13" high figure, estimated at $6000/8000, with deeply incised detail, is of semi-human male form with a reptilian head. It came from a Tennessee estate and went to a European collector.

Pouches and an awl case from the Massachusetts collection of Charles and Blanche Cybele Derby attracted interest and solid money. Charles consults on American Indian art and is a longtime collector of African art. This early Kiowa beaded leather strike-a-light pouch from the mid-19th century made with seed beads of various sizes on thin and supple commercial leather and with tin cone danglers came from the Derby collection. It sold on the phone for $7380 (est. $5000/7000).

Bidding was all over the place in each category; some lots sailed, others stayed still. Bidders liked the African and prehistoric objects, but beaded items, for the most part, didn’t seem to excite them. One exception was a Cheyenne buffalo hide belt pouch that brought $13,530. Northwest Coast material was of particular interest, and the prices told the story. Two important textile lots failed to make reserve: A Hethuska Society hide from the 1880s, painted with drummers, a buffalo hunter, and warriors, was estimated at $60,000/80,000 and was bought in, as was a historic Sioux winter count (est. $15,000/20,000) from about 1930.

A large, 18¾" tall Hopi Palhik Mana or Butterfly Maiden kachina, which is a woman’s dance personage, dated to around 1900 and sold for $6150. A Hopi pottery seed jar decorated with two stylized “parrots” and pod-like elements, perhaps by master potter Nampeyo (1859-1942), measured 3¾" x 9½" and brought $3998. It came from the collection of W.C. Martin and was purchased at Skinner in November 1989. A Santa Fe Railroad poster for the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles, 27" x 19¾", was estimated at $400/600 and made its way to $2706. A Cheyenne buffalo pouch from the 1860s with multicolored geometric and cross designs and tin cones at the tip, along with the original iron striker and the original belt strap, sold online for $9840. A Sioux tomahawk, circa 1870, with a branded ash handle inscribed “no. 437 Gottschall collection, picked up at Wounded Knee, Dakota Territory, 1874,” sold for $5227.50. A large Acoma polychrome olla, circa 1900, brought $7073. An Apache pictorial basketry bowl from the early 20th century was woven with human and animal figures and sold for $4305 (est. $1500/2000).

An 11" long late 19th-century Northwest Coast halibut hook carved with two human faces and a halibut in a canoe form with an animal head and octopus tentacles sold for $23,370 (est. $1000/1500). As she watched the hook sell, Linda E. Dyer, an independent appraiser, consultant, and broker of fine art and antiques, an Antiques Roadshow appraiser, and a former director of Skinner’s American Indian and ethnographic art department, observed, “This is the nicest group of halibut hooks I’ve seen in a long time.” The halibut hooks came from a New York state collection that began in the 1970s, and this example went to a Boston collector. A 9½" tall Northwest Coast halibut hook carved with an avian head, animal head, and fish designs (not pictured), estimated at $1000/1500, sold for $3198.

A Tlingit carved and painted wood rattle in the form of a raven with red and black pigment and a single remaining dentalium shell dangler fetched $9225 against the $3000/4000 estimate.

A 17" tall Yoruba carved wood Shango staff brought $4920. Shango was the Yoruba god of thunder and lightning. It came from the African art collection of Fred and Allyne Schwartz and was among over 50 lots sold to benefit the Auschwitz Institute of Peace and Reconciliation. As soon as the staff sold, bidders in search of the ethnographic lots of the sale, which were the first 89 lots, rose as one and departed the gallery, looking like a shift change at a factory.

Buyers liked the Northwest Coast material and bid eagerly. A Nootka or Salish carved wood rattle in the form of a bird composed of two pieces of wood fastened together with hide had brass tack eyes and black and brown pigments. Estimated at $10,000/15,000, it sold for $14,760. A 10" tall Northwest Coast carved wood halibut hook from the last quarter of the 19th century depicting a shaman with one arm raised while being bitten on the cheek by a small animal sold online for $5842.50 (est. $2000/2500). A 19¾" long Tlingit shaman’s carved yew wood otter spirit dance wand, circa 1890, brought $4305 against the $800/1200 estimate. It sold previously in 2011 at Seahawk Auctions.

Bidders grabbed up the fine Northwest Coast material such as this 8" long Northwest Coast horn powder flask from the second half of the 19th century decorated with two low-relief carved killer whales and copper fitting. It was estimated at $500/700 and sold for $4920.

A phone bidder paid $8610 (est. $2000/2500) for a Taino Zemi stone (rear in photo), a sacred effigy that dates from between 1000 and 1500 C.E. The stone, carved with the face and rear legs of a Zemi spirit, is typical of examples coming from the Greater Antilles Islands and the Bahamas. It was gathered by the Archambault family, who collected in Santo Domingo in the early 20th century. A polished white Taino Zemi stone, pictured in the foreground, was accompanied by a copy of a 1990 authentication letter from Frederick J. Dockstader (1919-1998), anthropologist, professor, museum director, and American Indian authority. It brought $2091 (est. $800/1200) from the same collector as the darker colored Zemi. The white Zemi stone had sold in 2006 at Bonhams in London.

A 19th-century Bella Coola polychrome mask carved as a human face with face paint and adorned with a labret sold for $4920 (est. $4000/6000). The mask appeared to have been repainted with commercial paints some time ago. A fierce-looking Northwest Coast killer whale rattle estimated at $1000/1500 brought $4059. A 19½" tall Baule (Côte d’Ivoire) carved and incised wood male figure sold for $6765. It sold previously at Christie’s in 1995.

For more information, check the website (www.skinnerinc.com) or call (508) 970-3254.

A lot consisting of four detailed ink drawings, each 4¼" x 2¾", by the Cheyenne ledger book artist Howling Wolf or Ho-na-nist-to (1849-1927) depicting himself, his father, Minimic or Eagle Head, a “Cheyenne Squaw,” and an Arapaho warrior sold for $9225 (est. $7000/9000). Howling Wolf was a southern Cheyenne warrior, part of warrior Black Kettle’s band, and was present with his father at the Sand Creek Massacre in Colorado in 1864. Both were among 72 Southern Plains warriors exiled to Fort Marion in St. Augustine, Florida, in 1875.

A Blackfeet cloth war shirt from the last quarter of the 19th century decorated with beaded strips of cotton, a central medallion, ermine tail drops, and large glass trade beads sold for $24,600 (est. $20,000/30,000). Mascolo photo.

A 12" long Cheyenne buffalo hide triangular belt pouch with a flap, circa 1860, decorated with multicolored seed and pony beads and retaining two tin cones sold for $13,530. It came from the Massachusetts collection of Charles and Blanche Cybele Derby and was published in Eye of the Angel: Selections from the Derby Collection.

A pair of Comanche woman’s high-top moccasins, circa 1890, with red and yellow pigments, beaded detail, and a row of metal studs brought $5227.50 (est. $3500/4500). They came from the studio collection of Taos artist Bert Phillips, who purchased them from Santa Fe author and dealer Forrest Fenn in 1989. Fenn claims to have buried treasure worth over $1 million in the mountains north of Santa Fe, which has spurred hundreds to go in search of it, and three so far have died in the hunt.

A large, 115" tall, polychrome wood totem pole attributed to Northwest Coast carver Joe Capilano (1850-1910), who was a leader of the Squamish from 1895 to 1910, sold for $3198 (est. $4000/6000). Mascolo photo.

Originally published in the March 2018 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2018 Maine Antique Digest

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