Published: October 24, 2006
Cowan’s Auctions’ September 16 American Indian art auction generated $1,303,634 from 580 lots of American Indian art and artifacts. The highest selling item was an early Delaware bandolier bag for $115,000. Other highlights included a Lakota beaded and quilled hide tobacco bag that sold for $101,200 and a Cheyenne beaded hide cradle that went for $57,500.
Cowan’s Auctions’ founder Wes Cowan said he was pleased with the auction results. “The results of this auction were great and we’re already looking to the future,” he said. “The March 2007 American Indian auction will include an important collection of Northwest Coast art recently deaccessioned from the Western Reserve Historical Society, as well as Western paintings and bronzes.”
“I think there is a crossover in interest among people who collect Western material culture and artists depicting the region the objects came from,” added Danica Farnand, Cowan’s American Indian art specialist.
With 243 floor, phone and absentee bidders and 366 eBay Live auction bidders from across the United States and nine European countries, 40 percent of lots sold above their original estimates and record prices were set for a variety of items.
Dick Porht, a Michigan antiques dealer, was among those bidding. “Wes had a great sale and Cowan’s set a few records. The Sioux quilled pipe bag and the Delaware bandolier bag soared. For those of us trying to buy a few things it was a tough day. This sale speaks well for the market and the strong interest in good, fresh historic Indian material.”
The sale started with a bang when a pair of 11-inch Eskimo dolls carved by artist Ethel Washington hammered for $5,500. Quickly to follow was a 1900s photo album of 108 silver gelatin photographs illustrating the California, Plateau and Southwest basket collection of G.A. Steiner (1844–1916). Steiner, from Allegheny, Penn., assembled one of the finest basket collections in the United States around the turn of the Twentieth Century. The baskets themselves were placed in a private museum designed and built by Steiner’s grandson until the family sold the collection in the 1980s. Two basket collectors, both of whom owned pieces from the Steiner collection, pursued the photo album at the auction. After spirited bidding, it finally sold for $16,100.
Sparks flew when the Henry W. Andrews collection hit the block. Andrews, deputy commissioner of Indian Affairs in company with commissioners John V. Wright and Jared W. Daniels, was sent west from Washington, D.C. to negotiate land rights with the Coeur D’Alene and Spokane Indians in 1887. Andrews’ collection was recorded on a handwritten ledger as purchased April 1, 1885.
Bidders heavily chased a scarce 1880 Ute treaty photograph of Chief Ouray and his wife Chipoeta dedicated to Andrews, which ultimately sold to a telephone bidder for $11,500. In addition, a Sioux cradle cover, decorated with crossed American flags, sold for $21,800 and a rare Crow rifle scabbard with long streaming fringe brought $43,700. But the culmination of this collection occurred when an extremely rare Lakota quilled tobacco bag hammered for $101,200. This bag is one of three known examples of a tobacco bag demonstrating a specific quillwork technique called weaving. Typically, quillwork is wrapped around sinew. In this example, the dyed porcupine quills were meticulously threaded over and under strands of white horsehair.
These powerful pieces were not the only highlights. Sprinkled among Sioux moccasins, stone clubs and turn-of-the-century photographs taken by D.F. Barry and Roland Reed was a Cheyenne cradle laden with thunderbird imagery collected by Earl Bates, a professor at Cornell University and part of the material deaccessioned by the same western New York museum, which sold for $56,500. Another Kiowa cradle, dated circa 1870, brought $54,625.
A stacked Mudhead and Heheya kachina sold for $14,950; and the cover lot for the auction catalog, a circa 1880 Zuni jar decorated with applied frogs, sold for $39,100. Southwestern pottery, baskets, and Navajo weavings held their own in the sale, bringing respectable prices. Works by the San Ildefonso potter Maria Martinez did very well, with one plate depicting Avanyu slithering around the edge selling for $5,462. A Plateau Wasco cornhusk “Sally” bag sold for $4,312.
Toward the end of the sale, a Delaware bandolier bag dated circa 1830s, holding a preauction estimate of $20/30,000, stole the show. With fierce bidding, the piece sold over the phone to an overseas bidder for $115,000. Bought at a farm auction 20 years ago in Clinton County, Ohio, this rare bag was described by some as “a masterpiece.”
Other items performed equally well. A pair of Kiowa/Comanche child’s moccasins sold for $1,725; Cheyenne child’s beaded hide leggings, $2,300; a Kwakiutl carving of a basket weaver by Shona-Hah, $2,645; and a carved chief’s hat by Don Lelooska, Shona-Hah’s son, sold at $7,475. The photography showed well with D.F. Barry cabinet cards of Sitting Bull bringing $1,265 and Rain-in-the Face for $977.
Prices reported include the 15 percent buyer’s premium. For information, 513-871-1670 or www.cowanauctions.com.
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