Published: March 17, 2020
Review by W.A. Demers, Photos Courtesy Santa Fe Art Auction
SANTA FE, N.M. – New Mexico art and artifacts spoke to Joseph Pytka, known for directing TV commercials and Michael Jordan in “Space Jam,” among other film projects. He collected Spanish-American art that is representative of the northern New Mexico culture. “Over the several decades that Mr Pytka spent in New Mexico, meticulously restoring the historic adobe compound in the heart of Santa Fe, he was renowned for his knowledge and passion for the arts and history of New Mexico, and this collection represented his great love affair with the state,” said Santa Fe Art Auction’s (SFAA) president Gillian Blitch. “His knowledge is so broad, covering so many areas, from furniture, devotional art, weavings, tinwork and pottery. While restoring the compound, he was known to seek out local information on a certain shade of pink pigment,” said Blitch, who added that she had the opportunity to see the collection, displayed salon-style, in Pytka’s home.
Pytka put the stunning adobe compound, a collection of meticulously restored Spanish-Pueblo Revival buildings – including a chapel and library – on the market in 2015 for $12.5 million and it sold in 2019. He furnished the home with objects with cultural significance – statues, tinwork, books, quilts, wood carvings, religious art, pottery, chests and various forms of folk art. A significant niche in the collection was tinwork, each room having examples of the decorative craft. About a third of his collection was sold privately, another third went with the home and the remaining third came to SFAA. Some of the genres encompassed in the consignment were 200 tinwork items, more than 25 textiles and weavings, 30 carved and painted bultos and 65 pottery items, from prehistoric to contemporary greenware. Other genres included furnishings (chests, tables, chairs, a vintage copper/zinc alloy kitchen sink and a vintage “coffin” bathtub), Kachinas and American Indian beadwork and wooden crosses with straw overlay.
The Leap Day sale, conducted in two sessions on February 29, dispersed 440 lots from Pytka’s collection and saw more than seven hours of online bidding with more than 1,000 registered bidders watching from 20 countries, resulting in a remarkable 100 percent, “white glove” sell-through when post-auction sales are factored in, bringing total sale value to more than $1.2 million.
Fine art, decorative art and furniture were among the categories presented, and although the main draw was New Mexico art and artifacts, the auction included items from several recognized artists and brands, including Tiffany Studios. A standout item, for example, was a spider table lamp from Tiffany Studios, which was the second highest performing lot, realizing $48,000. Made between 1900 and 1915, the lamp shade rests on a mushroom base with a spider finial.
A retablo of Archangel San Rafael, circa 1785-1800, School of Miera y Pacheco, was the star lot, outperforming its high estimate to realize $60,000. At 51-7/8 by 21-1/8 inches, this is one of the largest retablos to come from the School of Miera y Pacheco, overshadowed in size only by another lot in the sale, also from Miera y Pacheco, a retablo of Santa Rosalita de Lima, circa 1785-1800, which sold for $48,000. The San Rafael example is a massive, single-board work, bearing an image painted with oils over gessoed wood. The Archangel San Rafael carries a staff with cross, has large white wings, wears a plumed helmet, indigo tunic and billowing red cape. He appears over the heads of angels. The large panel contains a mitered frame of hand grooved molding, segmented and painted red and black at intervals and decorated with floral elements, wooden pegs attach to panel.
In a 1993 communication from Father Thomas Steele, he speculates that this retablo panel is possibly one of the four original panels from the 1800-10 Alameda altar screen. He attributes this retablo panel to a follower of Bernardo Miera y Pacheco or possibly Manuel Miera y Pacheco [son of Don Bernardo)
The retablo was a highlight of the consignor’s collection when it hung in his historic adobe home in Santa Fe, and certainly one of the most desirable and watched lots in the sale of the Joseph Pytka collection, according to the Blitch, who said that both retablos went to a private collector in New Mexico.
Other featured lots included a Navajo woven chief’s blanket, circa 1865-75. The third-phase Navajo blankets are considered to be among the best Navajo textiles, mostly due to the skill of the Navajo women weavers. “The blanket was in beautiful condition with striking colors and design, and you could see the shape of the shoulders of its wearer,” said Blitch. Beyond lamps and woven blankets, the auction also presented a plethora of the small handmade sculptures known as bultos, tin frames with mirrors and religious figures, New Mexican pottery and more.
Among the bultos, the most striking example, one attributed to master carver José Aragón (1796-1850), was impressive in size, 33 by 14 by 5 inches. Depicting Our Lady of Guadalupe in prayer, the hand carved figure wears a crown, long blue cloak, with delicate painted white star forms falling over the shoulders and long red dress. Carved wooden “rays” surround her figure. Three faces appear at her hem, painted face appears on lower orb of figure and rests on upper tier of painted base. The figure catapulted beyond its $8/15,000 estimate to bring $27,000.
Another example, this one attributed to Pedro Antonio Fresquís (1749-1831), was made circa 1790 and depicts the archangel Michael. Shown with one foot resting on a monster, the hand carved male figure wears floral painted tunic, holds sword and scales, wears a tin cross and tin wings. It was estimated $2,5/7,500 and pulled in $18,000.
Starring among the pottery in the sale, a large-scale Zia storage jar with medium opening, neck sloping to wide shoulders and narrow base, circa 1930, was bid to $18,000. With a polychrome matte painted design, it pictured four large red parrots and flowers with dark leaves interspersed between double red undulating bands on creamy white field and red base.
Blitch recalled that nearly every nook and cranny in Pytka’s adobe residence was decorated with examples of tinwork. One of the best was a round tin frame with mirror, circa 1870-80 and attributed to Valencia Red and Green Workshop. Fetching more than four times its high estimate at $15,000, the piece had a small rectangular mirror in a round tin center with stamped elongated elements painted red and green. The round tin was surrounded by a profusion of stamped discs, deep swags and “drapes” on the border.
Pytka directed his artistic sensibilities even to collecting utilitarian objects. A Santa Ana dough bowl, circa 1870-80, exhibited a softly burnished ochre surface with red base, measuring 19 inches in diameter and 9½ inches high. It sold for $8,400.
Prices given include the buyer’s premium as stated by the auction house.
Santa Fe Art Auction in 2019 expanded to Santa Fe’s newest arts district at the Baca Railyard, converting an existing 12,800-square-foot structure into a spacious new home. This was the fourth sale the firm has conducted since moving into the facility. Blitch was already busy after this event wrangling some 500 or so lots from an upcoming single-owner sale of the Barbara and Ed Okun collection, rich in Twentieth Century ceramics. And there is a summer sale in the works as well. For information, www.santafeartauction.com or 505-954-5858.
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