Published: September 1, 2020
Review by Greg Smith, Catalog Photos Courtesy Santa Fe Art Auction
SANTA FE – Santa Fe Art Auction’s (SFAA) Western Decorative Arts & Objects sale provided a timeline of generational art on August 22, a glimpse into the varied styles produced by families of artists who have called the west their home for centuries.
Forty-two consignors supplied the 281 offerings of fine art, textiles and pottery, including at least two museums and the estate of an unnamed prominent Native American female artist.
The auction grossed $175,000 with an 84 percent sell-through rate by lot. SFAA president Gillian Blitch said the sale had around 1,500 registered bidders across four platforms and hailing from 22 countries.
“We were just delighted with the sale,” she said. “We felt it was a good mix of material. One of the things we noticed with both this sale and last month’s New Mexico Now auction was energetic bidding for living and contemporary artists. We saw that here for example in contemporary pottery, and last month we had living Santero work that did very well.”
Among the highest earning lots in the sale was contemporary Choctaw-Chickasaw self-taught artist Norma Howard’s (Oklahoma, b 1958) untitled 2004 ink on paper work featuring a woman and child fishing. Blitch said, “We were surprised but also not surprised,” on the work that went well above the $400/600 estimate to sell for $4,080. The result is an auction record for Howard, who, had it not been canceled on account of the pandemic, would have been among the exhibitors at the Indian Market where she has shown since 1997.
Another contemporary that Blitch pointed to was Hopi artist Gregory Lomayesva (b 1971). “He’s so classic,” Blitch said, speaking to the two modern Kachina dolls offered in the sale. A free-standing 2001 work measuring 29 inches tall depicting a full-bodied Kachina figure sold for $840, while a Kachina mask, 24 inches high and 22 across, sold for $600. Lomayesva is from a family of artists, his mother is the distinguished Santero artist and authority Marie Romero Cash. His grandparents include the tin artists Senaida and Emilio Romero.
Works from father Popovi Da (1923-1971) and son Tony Da (1940-2008) finished near each other. Popovi was the son of San Ildefonso potter Maria Martinez and her artist husband Julian Martinez, Tony their grandson. Tony Da’s 12½-by-21-inch untitled gouache on paper work depicting a Deer Dancer would finish at $3,600, while his 1983 mixed media on paper titled “Four Corners of the Earth” sold for $2,750. Popovi’s untitled but wildly colorful gouache and graphite on paper featuring two deer and a skunk around a tree sold for $3,500.
The collecting community is alive and well among Western artists, and this was found among a number of offerings in the auction that hailed from the estate of a prominent unnamed Native American female artist who collected her contemporaries. Found here was the sale’s top lot, an untitled earth pigments on board work featuring jack rabbits by Pablita Velarde [Tse Tsan] (Santa Clara, 1918-2006) that sold for $5,250. “This is a particularly attractive painting, the jack rabbits are a little unusual and we were thrilled to see the demand,” Blitch said. The result places the small 13-3/8-by-15-3/8-inch work among Velarde’s highest records at auction, and the highest price per square inch. Also from this collection was a polychrome jar, 7-1/8 inches high, by Fannie Nampeyo (Hopi, 1900-1987), which sold at $4,500.
Among textiles, two Navajo works from the 1920s sold well. At $4,560 was a Two Grey Hills rug, with white, grey and brown natural wool colors and turquoise and black aniline dyes. It measured 54 by 71¾ inches. Without the turquoise was a regional area rug with whirling logs that brought $3,600. It was larger than the other, measuring 61½ by 117¾ inches.
Other fine art that sold well included Emil Bisttram’s (1859-1976) oil on panel titled “Dynamite,” a 1959 work of a historic Native American motif that sold near its high estimate at $4,800. In 1931, Bisttram moved to Taos, N.M., and became actively involved in the arts scene there, eventually founding the Transcendental Painting Group with Raymond Jonson, Agnes Pelton and seven others.
Blitch said that buyers are becoming increasingly comfortable with bidding online and making post-auction offers on passed lots. She said her by-appointment preview of this sale was appreciated by a number of bidders.
It will be a busy few months for SFAA as the firm gears up for its signature art auction in November. That will be preceded by a September timed online sale of Native American Silver. In December, the auction house will launch its inaugural watches and jewelry auction followed by another Native American auction in conjunction with the Southwestern Association For Indian Arts’ (SWAIA) Winter Market.
Prices given include the buyer’s premium as stated by the auction house. For information, www.santafeartauction.com.
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