CINCINNATI – An extraordinary 18th century Eastern woodlands pipe previously owned by well-known collector Clem Caldwell was the top lot of a busy sale day at Cowan’s Auctions Sept. 23. The pipe, which sold for $132,000 (including a 20 percent buyer’s premium), was the object of one of the many bidding wars that spurred Cowan’s Fall American Indian & Western Art Live Salesroom Auction to a $1.25 million total. Absentee and Internet bidding was available through LiveAuctioneers.
“The Eastern woodlands pipe exceeded its high estimate but even at this price, our buyer got a great deal,” said Danica Farnand, Cowan’s director of American Indian Art. “Pipes from this era and this region are incredibly rare but pipes with this level of craftsmanship quite simply don’t ever come to market. Over 300 years after it was originally carved, you can still make out carved tattoo markings and his glass imitation wampum bead belt is still intact. It’s a stunning piece.”
Depicting a nearly naked reclined man sitting with his hands on his hips and legs extended, the pipe (above) somehow managed to survive the European settlement of the southern Great Lakes and Ohio Valley region that destroyed most pieces of Native American culture from that time.
The rarity of the pipe was not lost on bidders. Bidding started at $40,000 as four phone bidders from around the country battled two floor bidders for several minutes before the hammer finally fell at $110,000 (the addition of the 20 percent buyer’s premium resulted in the total price realized of $132,000).
For the second time in 2017, the prehistoric art from the late Jan W. Sorgenfrei was the most coveted collection of the day. Although Sorgenfrei, an auctioneer from Findlay, Ohio, collected a wide variety of prehistoric artifacts, he was especially partial to birdstones and had assembled arguably the world’s finest collection at the time of his death. Bidders were eager to get their hands on pieces from the collection with many driving across the Midwest to come bid in person in Cincinnati. Part II of the collection sold for $221,160 in just 52 lots.
“The Sorgenfrei Collection is unparalleled,” said Farnand. “It’s not only a fairly diverse grouping of prehistoric art, but it’s also extremely well curated. All of the pieces were carefully chosen as outstanding examples of their medium. It’s no wonder demand has been so overwhelming.”
The top lot from the collection was an elongated slate birdstone (below) that sold for $32,400. Other highlights from the collection include another elongated slate birdstone, which sold for $24,000; an elongated porphyry birdstone for $19,200; and two elongated slate long-neck birdstone, one for $17,400 and the other for $16,800.
Two exceptional examples of Navajo weaving marked another high point in the auction. Coming in as the second highest hammer price of the day, a 19th-century Navajo classic serape with a white field sold for $54,000. In addition to its excellent condition, what made this particular blanket so desirable is its unusual field. While the majority of Navajo serapes have a red field, this piece’s white field is relatively rare, especially for blankets from the 19th century.
Immediately preceding the serape, was a Navajo third phase chief’s blanket once belonging to Don Bennett, founder of what is today known as the Whitehawk Antique Indian Show. The blanket, which dated circa 1860, sold for $36,000.
Two war clubs topped $20,000 in the auction. The first was a mid-19th century Delaware gunstock club (below) crafted from maple and decorated with arched and triangular elements carved in bands amid stars and brass tacks sold for $32,400. This was followed by an Eastern Plains tacked ball club from the collection of Marvin Lince that sold for $25,200.
As always, beadwork was a hot category throughout the day with the top lot being a Blackfoot beaded hide war shirt, collected by John M. Phillips (1861-1953) that sold for $54,000. Other highlights in the category include a Sioux beaded buffalo hide cradle that sold for $14,400; a Metis quilled hide frock coat for $13,800; and a Sioux beaded infant dress for $6,000.
It was also a good day for pottery, especially works by well-known artists. The top pottery lot of the day was a Trinidad Medina (Zia, 1884-1969) attributed pottery olla that sold for $9,600. Other pottery that sold well included a Santa Ana pottery olla from the collection of Dwight Lanmon, which sold for $7,380; a Fanny Nampeyo (Hopi, 1900-1987) pottery jar for $7,200; and a We’wha (Zuni, ca 1848 – 1896) attributed polychrome pottery bowl for $6,900.
Other miscellaneous highlights from the auction include a Sioux painted muslin warrior’s cape that sold for $12,600; a Northeastern burl bowl with figural ladle for $12,000; a Crow painted parfleche cylinder for $10,455; and a Don Lelooska (Kwakwaka’awkw, 1933-1996) carved wood sculpture for $9,840.