Published: April 6, 2021
Review by Greg Smith, Images Courtesy Pook & Pook Inc
DOWNINGTOWN, PENN. – Pook & Pook’s March 24 Native American Indian auction spread out over 596 lots to spotlight Indigenous art and artifacts created throughout time and across the coasts of North America. The sale grossed $292,937 as it went 99 percent sold.
“No matter which region it represented, I thought we had good examples of things,” said auctioneer Jamie Shearer. “The Plains tribes with the beadwork, the Northwest Coast pieces, even the Southwest pottery.”
The sale found its leader at $17,136 in a Northwest Coast carved and painted totem pole that centered on transformation themes with a man’s face at the bottom, a long full-bodied whale to the center, and an eagle perched atop on the whale’s tail. The firm dated the 43-inch pole to the mid/late Nineteenth Century and said it was likely from the Haida people. Themes of transformation are common in Northwest Coast Indigenous cultures, where families will often trace their roots back to powerful animals like whales, bears and eagles. The totem had been consigned from a Maryland collection and sold to a private Pennsylvania collector.
“We felt that was good and it would do very well,” Shearer said, but how well was unknown to the auction house until bidding started and ended after 144 increments. Shearer said even though the firm had an in-person preview, online-only bidding has the effect of muting the chatter and stifling any sense of expectations.
It was not the only Northwest Coast totem that performed well as a 35½-inch-long example went out at $5,720. This was later, dating to circa 1900, and was signed verso “George.” With vibrant paint, it featured an eagle with a fish in its claws, as well as a bear, bird and man at bottom.
Other Northwest Coast items performed well, including a copper-clad storage chest by Richard Dicks (b 1948) a Bella Coola Nation artist. Dicks specializes in copper clad boxes infused with Northwest Coast imagery, reflecting the Kwagiulth style of carving. The box measured 24 inches across and brought $5,103 from a California buyer.
“That came in late to the sale,” said Shearer, noting it came from a local collector along with a dozen other items. “I figured it would do well, but not being that old makes it a question mark. It’s not a period piece, but it’s very well done.”
A raven rattle by Washington native Ken Kidder, consigned from the same collector as the Dicks box, brought $2,030. The rattle was 13 inches long and featured a frog with its tongue extended into a man’s mouth, having abalone inlays and rattan wrapped handle. At $1,845 was a Northwest Coast “Button Blanket” together with a headdress decorated with ermine skin, wool and abalone. A little ahead at $1,890 was a carved Kwakiutl moon-face mask by Kwakwaka’wakw Northwest Coast artist and Chief Beau Dick (1955-2017). Dick was from a lineage of carvers that included his father, Benjamin Dick, and grandfather, James Dick.
The sale found success with Native American pottery, including a large Laguna Pueblo polychrome olla that went out at $8,442 to a Western United States buyer. Circa 1880 and 13¼ inches high, the olla was made by Laguna Two Spirit artist Arroh-ah-och (1830-1900). Arroh-ah-och was among the last potters of Laguna and one who incorporated Zuni designs into their works. Two Spirit, “berdaches” or “amujerados,” was the way early Native Americans identified transgender individuals within their community. In Ruth Bunzel’s 1929 The Pueblo Potter, she recalls hearing of Arroh-ah-och from the niece of the potter. “At Laguna, I saw a pot of typical Zuni feeling and treatment which I first took to be a Zuni pot. My informant, however, assured me it was an old Laguna piece. Later she remembered it was made by her uncle, one of the last men-women of Laguna, a famous potter, now dead, who had once visited Zuni and had been so much impressed by Zuni pottery that he introduced Zuni designs into Laguna.”
At $6,426 was a polychrome olla, 11 inches high, that came from the estate of dealer/collector Donald Leiby of Hamburg, Penn. The work sold to a West Coast buyer.
“As far as I know, he was a dealer his whole life,” Shearer said of Leiby. “We had no extra information about any of the works in the collection, but my guess is that a lot of it was bought in central Pennsylvania. Those guys didn’t travel much 20-30 years ago, there was no internet back then.”
Also from Leiby’s collection was a blackware olla by San Ildefonso potter Maria Martinez that brought $3,690. It measured 4½ inches high. An Apache olla-form basket from the collection, featuring animal and human figure design elements, went out at $2,520.
Baskets were led by a woven burden basket that brought $5,166. It had a complex geometric motif and the firm thought it might have been Pomo as it easily surpassed its $320 high estimate. Also Pomo was a “Top Knot” feather embellished basket, 11-inch diameter and 5½ inches high, that went out at $1,827.
Twenty-seven lots of beaded moccasins were offered and sold anywhere from $2,091 to $164. The top end was found in a late Nineteenth Century pair featuring a repeating jagged triangle motif in orange, light blue, red, dark blue and green beadwork. Once given to New York State Senator Theodore Day by Native Americans was a pair of moccasins that brought $1,638. They featured stepped pyramid and red cross designs with a tin cone fringe.
“I felt the condition on a lot of the things in the sale was impeccable,” Shearer concluded. “The baskets were just fantastic. The rugs – everything. It really drives the market.”
All prices reported include buyer’s premium. For additional information, 610-269-4040 or www.pookandpook.com.
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