Native American baskets carry weight at John Moran sale, March 15
MONROVIA, Calif. – On March 15, John Moran Auctioneers will present the James M. Cole collection, featuring more than 300 lots of Native American art and artifacts. Absentee and Internet live bidding will be available through LiveAuctioneers.
In addition to a collection of California baskets, the auction will also include other American Indian objects such as Western-style jewelry, stone implements and flints, and decorative items such as an Umatilla Indian hide doll and cradleboard, estimated at $2,000-$3,000.
The primary focus of the sale is Cole’s extensive collection of Native American baskets. With more than 150 lots on offer, an exciting array of regions, distinctive styles, sizes and materials are represented, mainly from regions in California but also from the Southwest and Northwest United States.
The large number of Yokuts baskets featured reflects the strong interest Cole had in collecting items from his local area, around Visalia, in central California. The Yokuts tribe of Native Americans had been renamed the Tulare Indians by the Spanish, which means “people of the tules.” Tule was a type of plant that grew in the marshes, shallow lakes and wetlands of traditional Yokuts territory. These lowland marshes of the Sierra Nevada foothills and San Joaquin Valley produced the materials used in the construction of the baskets, including broken fern, sedge and redbud.
The striking designs of the Yokuts baskets feature many different stylized motifs, including figurative animals and people. A Yokuts Friendship basket, estimated at $2,000-$3,000, depicts two lively bands of figures holding hands. Another Yokuts basket also has figures encircling the bottleneck bowl, with distinctive clothing shapes for men and women, and one figure with what appears to be a transparent dress. Its estimate is $2,000-$3,000.
While figurative and pictorial motifs are plentiful, Yokuts baskets also exhibit a variety of geometric designs, often influenced by or representing characters from the surrounding environment. For example, many of Cole’s Yokuts baskets display patterns representing the diamond shapes of snakeskin, such as a large cooking basket estimated at $2,000-$4,000.
Rattlesnakes were not the only snakes to be represented on Yokuts baskets. Gopher, King, Garter and water snake motifs all emerge in the imagery of Yokuts basket makers. The woven materials of baskets so closely mirror the scaled skin of the snake that the serpentine reference is noticeable even to the untrained eye. A Yokuts basket in the sale displays the gopher snake scale pattern as well as geometric ‘flies’ around the rim. It is estimated at $800-$1,200.
California Mission baskets also feature animal designs, as in a round tray depicting a coiled rattlesnake in dark stitches with a second, fainter snake continuing to coil and flow off the edge. With an estimate of $5,000-$7,000, this stunning basket is certainly a treasure for a dedicated collector.
One of the most iconic types of baskets found in the Cole collection is the basket hat of the Hupa, Yurok and Karuk tribes of Northern California. The design names for marks such as Snake’s Nose, Frog’s Hand, Centipede, Crab Claw and Grizzly Bear’s Paw can differ from tribe, village and family, and from past to present. A polychrome basket hat with a Grizzly Bear’s Paw pattern appears in the sale with a $500-$700 estimate.
Cole kept extensive records of his inventory, including the name of the weaver (if known), the acquisition price, who sold it and where, with many items having interesting and unusual provenances. A Mono Lake Paiute pictorial basket, estimated at $6,000-$8,000, is a good example. The small, coiled bowl depicts finely executed insect and frog motifs and was woven by Emma Murphy in the early 1900s. From Cole’s notes, including a letter from a former curator of the Yosemite Museum, we learn that Emma Murphy was well respected and considered a top weaver. She favored the use of realistic animal patterns, and of the example in Cole’s collection, the curator stated: “Your basket is a fine example of the weaving of the Yosemite Mono Lake region, and a rare example of the work of a weaver who died [in 1925] at the height of her creativity.”
A Northwest Coast Tlingit, an openwork tray basket estimated at $1,000-$1,500, also has an interesting story. While the delicate design and colorful bands of geometric designs are purely decorative for this particular basket, according to Cole, the design reflects the intended use of the original shape: a berry-washing basket. The spruce root baskets were used, dried, packed away and refreshed again. Cole notes: “This is a Tlingit basketry tray from Alaska that was used for washing berries. After washing berries in a stream, they would fold these up and put them away, then soak until soft and use them again … ”
A framed collection of Tussinger eccentric flints is considered to be pre-historic or later and consists of 60 elaborately shaped points of various shapes and sizes. The flints, which are estimated at $3,000-$5,000, are thought to have been excavated in Delaware County, Oklahoma in 1921 by M. Tussinger. Speculation abounds as to whether the complex flints represent Mayan influence reaching far into North America.
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