With merchandise as enchanting and intriguing as are the images conjured up by the name of this unique show, Treasures From the Silk Road to The Santa Fe Trail, a Caskey-Lees event, opened to a receptive crowd with a gala preview on Thursday evening, October 26. Presented by the ambitious Women’s Committee to benefit educational programs at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology and Anthropology, the show, now in its second year, has grown by leaps and bounds.
A crowd of more than 600 was on hand for the preview and while some of those in attendance where content for it to be merely a social affair, there were lots of serious buyers making their way through the show with the end result coming in the form of a host of sold tags posted around the floor.
This show is one of a handful of events that take place within the confines of a museum, yet it is the only one that we have seen that has many of the larger instillations left undisturbed and commingled with the antiques that are offered for sale by an international roster of dealers. Standing tall in one of the rooms is a monumental stone carving of the seated king Ramesses II, circa 1897–1843 BC, while objects in other areas include sarcophaguses and carved portions of city walls.
The floor plan is also quite unusual with two spacious hallways, lined on both sides with dealers, extending from a central circular rotunda that has a host of uniquely shaped areas carved out into displays. Forty-five dealers participate in the show and they come from as far as Australia, Belgium, Germany, Paris and London to do the show. The fresh and invigorating mix of international dealers is buoyed by a strong contingent of Americans, many from Philadelphia and New York, but also from as far away, fittingly, as Santa Fe.
Merchandise is as one might expect from within the confines of an archeology museum, broad and varied with tribal arts and Orientalia making up the vast majority of the booths. Tribal representations are widespread with the Americas represented from Arapaho to the Northwest Coast, Oceanic items are prevalent, as are things African in nature.
Among the standout items seen from the Northwest Coast was a carved and painted wooden totem pole model, from the fourth quarter of the Nineteenth Century. In vibrant paint, the rare piece displayed by Brant Mackley Gallery, Hummelstown, Penn., was priced at $12,500. From regions further north was a Yup’ik Eskimo mask that had been discovered in Cooke’s Inlet with strong polychrome paint and a rare articulated jaw. With a provenance of the ex-Hyde Foundation and Julius Carlebach, the original condition mask was priced at $44,500.
The one item in Mackley’s booth that was attracting quite a bit of attention was a rare Seventeenth Century buffalo hide shield that had been made by what was believed to be a Spanish soldier. The rare piece had apparently been claimed in battle and had been fitted with a soft tanned hide cover by either the Southern Plains or Pueblo Indians. The cover was decorated with what the dealer thought may have been a bear with outstretched arms. Cataloged as coming from the collection of Charles Derby, the pair was stickered at $125,000.
Just across the aisle at Acquisition Inc, Maple Shade, N.J., was an equally intriguing and important piece of Native American heritage as a rare Shoshoni sun dance ledger painted elk hide robe was offered. The robe, painted by Charlie Washaki, was reportedly the only known example of his work depicting this sacred ceremony. Washaki-decorated robes are included in major museum collections throughout the country.
Colorful beaded vests adorned the walls of the display of Denver dealer Earl Duncan. A pictorial man’s vest from either the Blackfoot or Flathead tribe, circa 1890, was decorated with an overall white beaded body with starkly contrasting red hands with outspread fingers occupying the lower front region on each side. Also displayed was an “extraordinary” Nez Perce “Delia Lowry” beaded dress yoke, early Twentieth Century, that featured a large American eagle with shield and outstretched wings above two draped American flags.
Also offered by the dealer was a rare Western Great Lakes tube beaded bandolier bag, circa 1880, that the dealer described as “scarce” and “rare.”
A wonderful selection of pots was displayed in the stand of Marcy Burns, American Indian Arts, New York City, including a extremely rare Zia pictorial jar, circa 1820, that had come from the ex-Al Luckett collection and was priced at $26,500. Another of the items attracting a great deal of interest was an extremely rare Santa Domingo red jar with exceptional early black decoration that was attributed to Felipita Garcia, of the Aguilar family, circa 1911.
Other noteworthy items from the booth included a rare Mission woven tray with snake design, circa 1890, that was in an excellent state of preservation with unusually strong colors. One of several blankets from the dealer’s inventory included a colorful Germantown eye-dazzler that was marked at $18,000.
Old Chatham, N.Y., dealers Paul Gray and Merrill Domas offered a grand selection of antique Native American art. Highlighting their booth were numerous impressive pieces, yet the extremely rare Northwest Coast Tsimshian portrait mask, circa 1850, with a delicately carved face and retaining the original finish, was standout. The mask, priced at $48,000, featured a carved and paint decorated headband, sprigs of hair and an articulated jaw.
Other items of interest included an early Plains woman’s dress yoke decorated with pond-scum green paint and all original elk’s teeth. The circa 1830 yoke was priced at $47,500, while a Micmac beaded cap, that had been modeled after a Nova Scotia fishing hat, circa 1850, was stickered at $12,500.
A New Guinea Yam mask from the Abelam, Maprik peoples, early Twentieth Century, was attracting interest in the stand of Michael Evans Fine Art, Ferndale, Penn. The rare piece, measuring 13 inches tall, listed a provenance of merely a New York private collection. Standing nest to the mask was a rare East Sepik province, Murik lagoon, carved wood and red pigment decorated female figure. Priced at $5,000, the unusual figure listed a provenance of Chris Boylan, Sydney, Australia.
Swords and knives decorated a wall of the stand belonging to Cambridge, Mass., dealer Hurst Gallery. Among the selection was an late Nineteenth Century “executioner’s sword” from the Ngombe or Ngala people from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Also offered from the assortment was a brass bladed knife with wooden handle inlaid with copper that had been made by the Hupa peoples of the Congo, and an unusual sickle shaped knife with an iron blade and ivory hilt that had been made by the Mangbetu peoples of Zaire.
One of the most anticipated booths is Tribal Gathering London as not only is the selection of merchandise impressive, but the display mounted in its oddly shaped space is exceptional. Highlighting the long row of masks offered at this year’s fair was a Kanyoka/Kalwena from the Congo-Angola border region, early Twentieth Century, that was not only intimidating, but a hauntingly accurate likeness. Priced at $8,500, the rare piece was decorated with large swatches of orange and black hair on the top of the head as well as a similarly colored goatee. Also offered from the Dinka peoples of Southern Sudan was a tall slender ancestral figure and a very unusual beaded wedding corset, mid Twentieth Century, that was priced at $4,500.
Chinese ceramics and works of art from the Ming to Qing dynasties were offered in the booth of Imperial Oriental Art. While a wide assortment of wares was offered from the booth, a large pair of Chinese Export elephants that had been configured as candlesticks dominated one case. From the Jiaqing period, 1760–1820, the extraordinary pieces measured more than 15 inches in height and nearly a foot in length.
On the opposite end of the spectrum was the booth of Iznik Classics Ceramics from Istanbul, Turkey. The dealers specialize in Twenty-First Century ceramics crated with old-world techniques by modern craftsmen. Highlighting the selection was an underglaze painted Iznik stoneware vase with bulbous base and pinched neck that was decorated in brilliant colors with birds perched on sprigs laden with floral, fauna and fruit.
Potomac, Md., dealer Vintage Interiors also displayed a wide variety of porcelains ranging from Chinese Export to English and Continental ceramics from the Georgian and Federal periods. Among the assortment of items displayed was a large verte-Imari armorial dish, circa 1772, that was decorated with the coat-of-arms of Leicestershire and Essex.
This show is as interesting as the museum that houses it. Penn Museum, founded in 1887, not only houses substantial collections, but it is a research center of the highest renown. The new exhibition, “Amarna, Ancient Egypt’s Place in the Sun” is currently open. For further information regarding the show, contact Caskey-Lees, POB 1409, Topanga CA 90290, 310-455-2866 or www.caskeylees.com.
Upcoming Caskey-Lees shows on the East Coast include the New York Ceramics Fair, January 17–21, and the New York International Tribal and Textile Arts Show, May 19–22.