Published: February 15, 2022
Review by W.A. Demers, Photos Courtesy Santa Fe Art Auction
SANTA FE, N.M. – After a 13-hour sale on February 5, having paused only twice for five minutes, Santa Fe Art Auction’s Gillian Blitch was exhausted but pleased. The event offered a diverse selection of historic to contemporary Native American arts, including jewelry, textiles, pottery and paintings. It totaled $850,000 and was 92 percent sold, according to Blitch, who assembled 495 lots ranging from monumental ancestral Pueblo pots to jewelry, concha belts, Nineteenth Century textiles and more. “We had 65 consignors,” said Blitch, “with one very large collection.” Total registered bidders among the four platforms, live online, plus phones numbered in excess of 6,000 in 35 countries, with 210 successful buyers.
“We had a remarkable number of bidders and bids, leading to the unprecedented length of the sale, not because bidding was slow, but because it was copious,” said Blitch. “We found that even at 10 pm, we still had 2,000 active bidders, bidding robustly, taking the R.C. Gorman and John Nieto prints well over high estimate.”
Pottery was the largest category in the sale, and leading the action was a Cochiti large storage jar, circa 1820, that sold for $48,000 to a collector on the phone. The fired clay vessel with pigment stood 17-1/8 inches high and had a diameter of 19 inches. It came from the collection of Philadelphian Henry Block, having descended in the family and was the catalog cover photo of a Bonhams 2005 Native American, Pre-Columbian and tribal art sale.
Maria Martinez (1887-1980) and Popovi Da (1923-1971) are well-known to collectors and dealers of San Ildefonso pottery, and there were several choice pieces among the top sellers in this auction. The Maria Martinez and Popovi Da collaborative period was from 1956 to 1970 and is recognized as the highest level of creativity and genius by this talented mother and son team. Popovi Da worked with Maria in all aspects of pottery preparation and their pieces were co-signed.
Selling for $24,600, above its high $15,000 estimate, was a redware plate with feather designs. It was inscribed on the underside “Maria / Popovi / 668” and had a diameter of 13-1/8 inches. It came from a private Missouri collection. “The redware is so rare,” observed Blitch, “you hardly ever see those, and it was pristine, gorgeous.”
From the same collection, a San Ildefonso Maria and Santana Martinez blackware piece, a wedding vase with feather designs, bested its $7,000 high estimate to bring $20,910. Inscribed on its underside “Maria / Santana,” it measured 9 by 5½ by 5½ inches. Santana Roybal Martinez was Maria’s daughter-in-law, the wife of Adam Martinez. Maria was known to have signed “Maria” in combination with Santana between 1954 and 1956. Prior to that time she signed her name “Marie” when working with Santana (who executed the painting while Maria formed the pots). Pottery created by Maria and Santana is highly desirable. Their work is found in many prestigious museums, as well as public and private collections all over the world.
A blackware feather bowl inscribed on the underside “Maria / Popovi” took $10,800. Measuring 7¼ by 9-3/8 inches, it won the 1964 New Mexico State Fair First Premium Award.
Fine art in the sale was led by a couple of works by American contemporary artist and longtime Santa Fe resident John Nieto (1936-2018). He concentrated on Native American themes, including Native American tribal representatives as well as Indigenous wildlife. “Warrior at Trujillo,” an acrylic on canvas depicting a lone warrior in a landscape, exhibiting the artist’s trademark intense primary colors and bold strokes, was bid to $15,600. Signed center left, the 30-1/8-by-24-inch work was from the collection of Jody and Duane Shrontz.
Bidders also liked Nieto’s big and bold portrait of a Native American warrior in “Warrior V,” 1991, also from the Shrontz collection, taking it from its $2/4,000 estimate to $10,200. It measured 10 by 8 inches.
An R.C. Gorman (Diné [Navajo], 1931-2005) color lithograph, “Navajo Dawn,” 1992, was edition 89 of 225. Signed and dated lower left, the 27-by-36-inch work from a private Idaho collection found a buyer at $4,080.
Fetching the same amount was a gouache on paper by Julian Martinez (San Ildefonso, 1879-1943). The untitled piece depicting an eagle came from a private Tennessee collection, was signed lower right and measured 9-5/8 by 13 inches.
Another large polychrome storage jar, this one a Zia, circa 1910, came out of a private New Mexico collection and listed among its provenance the Gerald Peters Gallery and private collections in New Mexico, Australia and Hawaii. Featuring bird and feather designs on its shoulder and body and standing 16¼ inches tall with an 18-inch diameter, it realized $14,400.
Striking Native rugs are another dimension of these sales. A Diné [Navajo] Red Mesa / Teec Nos Pos textile, circa 1930, of handspun wool, natural and aniline dyes was 102½ by 49¾ inches and earned $9,600.
Ramona Curley (Diné [Navajo], 1914-2003) was represented by a Two Grey Hills textile, circa 1960. Selling for $6,675, the handspun wool piece with natural colors was from a private New Mexico collection and measured 70 by 50 inches.
A Plains double-sided ledger drawing, circa 1880-1900, from a private New Mexico collection, ink on lined paper, 5-5/8 by 7-1/8 inches, more than doubled its high estimate to finish at $10,455, while James Auchiah’s (Kiowa, 1906-1974) untitled gouache on paper, 1947, depicting a hoop dancer, 1947, left the gallery at $5,280.
One of the smallest items offered in the sale, a Dine (Navajo) yellow gold and micromosaic inlay belt buckle by Carl (b 1952) and Irene Clark (b 1950) brought a big price – $13,200. The 22K yellow gold, turquoise, lapis, jet, mother-of-pearl, sugilite, coral and opal buckle was inlaid with a Yei figure, representing the benevolent supernatural being that is said to bring healing powers to the Navajo. It had a maker’s mark stamped verso, artist’s cipher, weighed 118 grams and would fit a belt approximately 1½ inches wide.
Prices given include the buyer’s premium as stated by the auction house. Next sale is works on paper, prints and multiples, March 12. For additional information, 505-954-5858 or www.santafeartauction.com.
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