BOULDER, Colo. – Ancient ceremonial objects, masterfully carved and painted mythical figures, and other fascinating cultural artworks will take center stage on May 24 at Artemis Gallery’s Northwest Pacific Coast, Tribal and Pre-Columbian Art auction. The fully curated offering of 341 lots features prized holdings that were privately amassed over many years by respected collector and dealer Joseph Alphabet. Start time is 10 a.m. Eastern, with Internet live bidding available through LiveAuctioneers.
The stunning beauty of pieces created by Native-American peoples of the Pacific Northwest sets the tone for this sale of colorful, extremely high-quality art. Among the most visually appealing entries is an early 20th-century Haida painted, carved-wood helmet. It is topped by a three-dimensional stylized wolf with a collar of silvery fur and bares a tooth-filled mouth. Most recently part of a Newport Beach, California, private collection, it is estimated at $1,850-$2,750.
A fabulous figural pairing (shown at top), either Tlingit or Haida in origin, consists of a three-dimensional Potlach Ceremony frog-form hat and matching Janus-form rattler. “The Tlingit have great respect for frogs and believe they bring good luck and fortune,” explained Teresa Dodge, managing director of Artemis Galleries. This particular duo, painted in a gorgeous peacock-blue color with red, yellow and black accents, was exhibited at the 1910 Vancouver (Canada) World’s Fair. Estimate: $3,250-$5,000
Several totem poles are offered from the featured collection, including a huge (27.5in high by 24in wide) example from the Namgis subgroup of the Kwakwaka’wakw or Nimpkish, peoples of Yalis (Alert Bay), British Columbia. This majestic 20th-century artwork displays an eagle with wings spread atop a grizzly bear that holds a rival chief in his paws. Its auction estimate is $3,000-$5,000.
A collecting category of greatly increasing interest is the art and relics of Oceania, including Papua New Guinea, New Zealand, Tahiti, Hawaii and other Pacific islands. The exceptional array of handcrafted pieces in the May 24 sale includes ancient Hawaiian basalt adzes (circa 1400) used for cutting, smoothing and carving wood; as well as many later objects of the 18th and 19th century.
An especially important Oceanic artwork is an ornately carved 20th-century Maori oyster-shell pectoral that was presented to the legendary Hawaiian swimmer and five-time Olympic medalist Duke Kahanamoku (1890-1968) during a visit to New Zealand. Kahanamoku, who is forever known as “The Big Kahuna,” is credited with having popularized the sport of surfing. Presented on a custom stand, the pectoral is expected to make $2,500-$4,000.
Poi is a staple of the South Pacific island diet, and the implement used to point taro root to prepare poi was a revered implement to Tahitians of the 17th to 19th centuries CE. A rare and outstanding example of a poi pounder, Lot 28A, is made of volcanic stone and has a beautiful, smooth surface from centuries of use. It is estimated at $3,600-$5,000.
A fine selection of African carved figures, masks, vessels and beads is highlighted by a Mbulenga female figure from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Lulua peoples. Carved from single piece of hardwood and standing 10.25 inches high, it dates to around the late-19th or early 20th century CE. The pre-sale estimate is $4,500-$6,000.
Intriguing and certainly unusual in that its mandible is articulated, a late-19th-century African Dan-Wobe face mask was hand-carved from hard wood and features an enormous nose, large bulging eyes with narrow slit-form openings, and conical cheek protrusions.
“The Dan people, who occupy portions of Liberia and Cote d’Ivoire, traditionally produced masks reflecting nearly every occasion or significant aspect of their society, including education, war, peace, and entertainment,” Dodge noted. “Dan artisans, when crafting these masks, looked to the natural world for inspiration because such masks were created to connect the owner with a specific spirit believed to offer guidance and protection.” The auction example is estimated at $2,000-$3,000.
Pre-Columbian art from a variety of Central and South American cultures takes pride of place in the May 24 auction. A set of superb Nayarit (western Mexico) matched male and female terracotta shaft-tomb figures, circa 300 BCE to 300 CE, displays vibrant colors and tripodal construction. The same open-eyed expression is shown on both faces, but there is little historical information to confirm exactly what figures of this type were meant to represent, e.g., were they religiously connected, mediators between the living and the dead, effigies of actual humans, etc.? “Whatever their purpose, they are beautiful artworks and reminders of a mysterious culture,” said Dodge. Estimate: $3,750-$5,000
A prime example of silver artistry, a matching pair of Sican/Lambayeque (north coast of Peru) silver keros or beakers dates to circa 750-1370 CE and has a total weight of 76.6 grams. Each kero has a gently flared rim and is decorated with a band of seabirds and heads of Lambayeque founder Naymlap in relief. Such vessels were used to drink “chichi,” a fermented beverage used in religious and ritual ceremonies. Estimate: $8,000-$12,000
A small but select grouping of fine art includes some real gems, like a circa-1840 Karl Bodmer (Swiss-born, 1809-1893) original hand-colored aquatint engraving titled Woman of the Snake Tribe, Woman of the Cree Tribe. It comes from the atlas to the journal of Prince Maximilian of Wied’s Travels in the Interior of North America, published 1839-1842. From a Colorado private collection, the engraved double portrait is cataloged with extensive background information and a $2,000-$3,000 estimate.
Also noteworthy are a signed and dated (1949) Dan Lelooska Smith painting on cloth depicting Warren “Lefty Wild Eagle” Warren Sr., of the Chemawa tribe, $950-$1,400; and D.F. Barry’s (American, 1854-1934) cased photo portfolio titled Custer, Prominent Military Structures, And The Men Who Fought the Sioux Wars, 124/150, $1,000-$1,500. “The images seen in the Barry photo portfolio, which is complete, will never again be reproduced, because the Denver Public Library, which has had the Barry negative collection since 1934, retired the use of the original negatives upon completing the 1982 edition,” Dodge said.
Absentee and Internet live bidding for Artemis Gallery’s Thursday, May 24 auction will be available through LiveAuctioneers.com. All auction lots will transfer with a gallery COA. Artemis Gallery unconditionally guarantees each item it sells to be “as described” in the catalog and legal to purchase, own and, if desired, resell. For additional information, call Teresa Dodge at 720-890-7700 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.