CINCINNATI – Hindman Auctions will present Native American Art: The Lifetime Collection of Forrest Fenn on Thursday, June 9. A prominent Santa Fe, New Mexico dealer and collector, Fenn became internationally recognized for his hidden treasure. The collection exemplifies a lifetime of passion for Native American art while also demonstrating Fenn’s enthusiasm for discovery and history. Just as he enjoyed creating puzzles for others to ponder, he also found joy in uncovering and musing about his own treasures. This will be the first of two auctions offering selections from Fenn’s personal Native American art collection, with the second to be presented in the fall of 2022. Absentee and Internet live bidding will be available through LiveAuctioneers.
Fenn began collecting at a young age, exploring the plains of Texas and the mountains of Montana searching for arrowheads. After retiring from the Air Force, Fenn established Arrowsmith-Fenn Gallery, among the first galleries in Santa Fe, with his partner Rex Arrowsmith, which eventually became Fenn Gallery. The gallery became incredibly successful, offering a range of Native American art such as artifacts, paintings and bronze sculptures, and attracting legendary names. The gallery was also known for championing the then almost-forgotten Taos School of Southwestern artists.
Following his recovery from cancer in 2010, Fenn wrote a memoir titled The Thrill of the Chase in which he mentions a treasure he hid somewhere in the Rocky Mountains. “Fenn’s Treasure” took hold with the public and media, and the playful memoir gave rise to a legendary hunt for riches by outdoor enthusiasts and treasure-seekers alike. The treasure was found shortly before Fenn’s death in 2020.
“We are proud to be presenting this truly renowned collection from a man who has left his mark on the collecting community with his enthusiasm and playfulness for the objects and the industry,” said Hindman’s Vice President for Native American Art Danica Farnand. “Fenn was a celebrated figure within both the Native American and Western art-collecting worlds, and the auction offers bidders a unique opportunity to acquire works from a fabled collector.”
Highlighting this 168-lot auction will be a collection of pottery and baskets, many in uniquely impressive sizes. Photography, dolls, beadwork and Plains material will also be offered. Top lots include a Sioux twisted pipe stem with Catlinite bowl that belonged to Sitting Bull, estimated at $60,000-$80,000, and a 19th-century Sioux Grizzly bear claw necklace, estimated at $40,000-$60,000.
“I was in awe of the impressive array of huge Pueblo storage jars lining shelves 20 feet above the floor of Fenn’s den in his Santa Fe home,” said Hindman Vice Chair Wes Cowan. “Beadwork from various Plains tribes filled two entire walls, and a table displayed a collection of rare Plains dolls. The collection spilled over to the floor, under tables, and over doorways.”
The auction includes a selection of photographs, with the majority taken by the firm of William J. Lenny and William L. Sawyers, who operated a photo studio in Purcell, Oklahoma in the late 1880s and early 1890s. It is thought that Fenn acquired many of these images from the estate of famed Western painter Joseph Henry Sharp.
A group of 19 significant images of the Kwahadi Comanche leader Quanah Parker, who emerged as a war leader in the early 1870s and became one of the best known Native American leaders of the 19th and early 20th centuries will also be offered. The group carries an estimate of $10,000-$15,000.
Fenn was noted for his collection of Pueblo pottery, and this portion of the auction is expected to draw significant interest. Among the highlights are a number of monumentally sized storage jars, including a pair of large Cochiti pottery storage jars from 1860 (lots 444 and 445, each estimated at $20,000-$30,000).
Fenn authored the book Historic American Indian Dolls, and a number of examples from this publication will be offered in the sale. A Wasco or Yakima beaded pictorial hide doll cradle, with doll, estimated at $15,000-$25,000; a pair of Cheyenne beaded hide dolls from 1890, estimated at $8,000-$10,000; and a 19th-century Western Apache beaded hide doll, estimated at $5,000-$7,000, are expected to see intense competition among bidders.
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