Published: January 26, 2021
Review by W.A. Demers, Photos Courtesy Show Dealers
ONLINE – The walk through the galleries of historical and tribal art arrayed at the Santa Fe Virtual Show was a cerebral one, perhaps fitting for a collecting category that is steeped in the spiritual world of native cultures. The winter online show opened at 1 pm Mountain Standard Time on January 14 and closed four days later on January 18. Featuring 60 dealers, the show was organized by a quartet of longtime specialists, including Brant Mackley, James Compton, Julie Kokin-Miller of Sherwoods Spirit of America Gallery and Ted Trotta and Anna Bono of Trotta-Bono. It was hosted on a platform developed by show promoter Marvin Getman, an easy-to-navigate virtual venue that lets visitors search among about 60 categories from Adornment to Western Accoutrements, as well as by keyword, price and booth number.
The show pulled in just under 5,000 unique viewers from about 60 different countries, with a page-view number exceeding 200,000. Contacted after the show closed, Mackley said he believed it was “very successful” with about 200 objects sold versus half that number for the August 2020 edition. A total of about 20 items were marked “reserved” at the end of the event.
James Compton said he was “very happy” with the results of the virtual show. “I sold a number of things, mostly weavings and pottery. I had a number of phone calls, not just about my listings on the virtual show, but also about listings on my website. The show is a great vehicle for creating more business all the way around as it exposes my items to a much broader viewership than an actual physical show could ever do.”
Compton acknowledged that it certainly hurts to not be able to have the viewers actually view and touch the items, but added, “If the photos are good enough, then the virtual path is almost like being there live. I liked how we allowed all the dealers to upload ten extra items the day before the show was to end. I also took the opportunity to lower some of my other prices as a last attempt to draw people in. The results were good for me, in that I sold several things the last day of the show. In addition, I will likely be purchasing several other items from other dealers at the show, ones I had never met before, as I went to their own websites and found things that I was seriously interested in.”
Compton, whose gallery is in Santa Fe, offered among many items a Nineteenth Century Spanish Colonial bulto of a Praying Saint from the region that is now New Mexico. Attributed to Jose Aragon, the saint is depicted in prayerful mediation with a gentle facial expression, her slight tilt forward and her hands connected in front of her heart in a devotional gesture of grace and love. His sales included an embroidered Hopi child’s manta, an early Ohkay Owinheh water jar, Navajo rug and an early classic Navajo dress panel.
Mackley is a second-generation art and antiques dealer from Hershey, Penn. He started his career as a child, collecting historic Plains Indian artifacts while accompanying his mother to antiques auctions in central Pennsylvania. He established his own gallery in 1996 and today is based in two locations: Hershey and Santa Fe.
One of the key objects in his virtual booth was a Macana war club with human figure, circa 1790-1830, from the Arawak/Carib tribes of the Guianas, Venezuela, and the Orinoco Basin. The carved and incised hard wood club measured 14-5/8 inches. Sold was a large Zia pottery Bird canteen, New Mexico, circa 1910-20, a rare Alaska Eskimo seal drag cord with effigy toggle and harpoon head, a Northern Plains Indian tipi model and an early Southern Plains Kiowa strike-a-lite pouch.
Described as “a cool pair” by dealer Jason Baldwin of Terra Incognita, Chicago, was a pair of what were likely Otoe Osage moccasins, Kansas, circa 1875-80. “This is a rare example of a pair being made without flaps,” said Baldwin. “They do sport parflèche painted soles, and the beading is in classic floral design.”
Sales for Baldwin included a quillwork sash strap and beaded choker, while a French tomahawk from the Eighteenth Century with sun, fleur de lis, cannons and brass inlay was labeled “reserved.”
Baldwin added, “I did enough business to justify doing the show, but it is a lot of work taking photos, editing, listing and posting. I personally prefer in-person shows, but maybe I’m a little old school. I did make a few new contacts, which should turn into future business. My dealer-to-wholesale ratio of sales was 50/50. Overall, I’m glad they had it, and happy to be representing my gallery and myself with a quality inventory. I was honored to be a part of the show.”
“O Brave New World,” quipped Steve Elmore, Santa Fe dealer. “I think the virtual shows will continue to grow as people become more accustomed to them. The internet has definitely saved my business, as foot traffic has almost disappeared.” Elmore offered, among other items, a large, traditional Zuni olla with applied leopard frogs from around 1890-1900, 10 inches high and 12 inches in diameter. “It is an early historic jar and is unsigned,” he said. Frog jars supposedly were used in Zuni kivas for ceremonies, although some of them later became more popularized as tourist items. “I did sell a Hopi Kachina doll to a French collector in Paris, which was fun,” said Elmore. “I tried to buy a Polacca bowl but was too late – someone else got it. I did buy an Acoma jar from Philip Garaway in Los Angeles. My website received more traffic and I sold two additional pieces off it during the sale. He also wrote up a sale of a large Hopi vase by Nampeyo from the show.
“In short, the sale worked, but not as well as a regular people-present event. I miss the interaction with established clients, meeting new people, and saying hello to my fellow dealers, some of whom I have known now for almost 30 years. I don’t know how many people received notifications to visit the show, but I also sent a link to my 1,800 email contacts to further promote it. I believe the show was an overall good promotion, but it’s definitely harder to sell without personal contact.”
Another of the show’s organizers, Ted Trotta, said he believed the virtual show was a significant success for many of the participating dealers. “There were approximately 60 participants in the show with more than 2,000 fine objects offered for sale. Native American, world tribal and Western Americana were the primary areas represented. This was a dealer-initiated event in response to the Covid crisis’ impact on our marketplace.
“We personally had additional sales from our website because of the crossover from the show. Significantly, we are also in dialogue with a new client who visited the sale site and reached out regarding one of our major pieces. Networking seems to be the key to viability in the current market.”
Farrow Fine Art Gallery, San Rafael, Calif., buys and sells antique tribal art, weapons, swords and shields from Indonesia, the Philippines, Africa, Oceania, Asia and the Americas. Erik Farrow has been selling antique ethnographic art and weapons in the “by appointment” gallery and US tribal art shows since 2000. His exposure to tribal art started in 1994 when he went into the art restoration business with his father, Al Farrow. He is a founding member of San Francisco Tribal, an association of San Francisco Bay Area art dealers.
Soon marked “reserved” in his online “booth” was an Iatmul overmodeled ancestor skull offered for $8,500. It was from the Middle Sepik River Area, Papua New Guinea, early Twentieth Century. It featured thick clay over the front of the skull with inlaid cowry shell eyes and at the hair line, a boar’s tusk in the nose and human hair, as well as line painting of natural pigment red and black colors.
“I had a surprisingly good show for being one of the few dealers who does not sell American Indian material,” Farrow told Antiques and The Arts Weekly afterwards. “This show is known for and heavy in Native American art. For this reason, I have not done an in-person show in Santa Fe for many years, but I do the San Francisco Tribal show every year. I met some new clients and sold mostly to people outside of the United States. Most of my sales went to Europe and Canada. It really shows how far of an audience the online shows reach, and I believe collectors are taking the online sales much more seriously now. They sort of have to because it is the only game in town with no travel possible. The show also promoted my personal website and got people there to look as well. In the long run, this market is going to continue to be more online even when we eventually get back to ‘normal,’ things just will not be as they were and unfortunately this is going to hurt walk-in galleries and shows.”
New York City dealer John Molloy posted sales of a Southern Plains doll, circa 1875-85, a Ute rondel bag, circa 1875, and a quilled drop for a Menominee medicine bag. Marked “reserved” was a Punuk (central Alaska) hide scraper.
“I thought it was a good show,” Molloy told Antiques and The Arts Weekly. “Had a few sales, one to someone new, and have another one pending. It’s a process for both the exhibitor and the audience but it appears to be a successful one. Certainly, one result of the pandemic will be the acceleration of commerce to the online experience. However, I doubt that it will ever completely replace the real experience of feeling, touching and smelling the objects we want in the antiques world, and we all look forward to the return of the real life in real time experience.”
This winter edition was the first time Mary Schmitt of Cayuse Western Americana, Jackson Hole, Wyo., has done an online show. Among her merchandise was a striking Pueblo cuff of heavy silver, possibly ingot, expertly crafted with an overlay of a butterfly, thought to be possibly circa 1920-30. “I found it very interesting, and very easy,” she said. “I didn’t know what to expect, but everything happened as explained, and I thought that the show itself presented beautifully. I didn’t make any sales, but I don’t find this particularly disturbing because the concept of an online show is rather new. Normally, when I do an in-person show I get a lot of compliments on presentation. This was a little different, obviously, so I had the idea to photograph everything outside if possible, trying to create a feel like I would in a physical booth. I did get some messages from people who liked my approach.”
James Compton summed up the virtual online show as “a perfect remedy for the state of our lives, particularly due to the restrictions created by the pandemic. The opportunity to shop wonderful items from the comfort and safety of one’s home is a big draw to a venue like ours. I want to particularly thank Julie Kokin-Miller, Brant Mackley and Ted Trotta / Anna Bono for helping us achieve our goals of creating an alternate way to do business during these times. They all make for a great team.”
Next summer’s show, slated for August 12-16, is taking shape as a hybrid event, with a virtual show running in tandem with a gallery walk-through in Santa Fe. For information, email Mackley at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 505-670-2447.
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