LORTON, Va. – Items from the Robert and Nancy Nooter collection of ethnographic art will be presented at Ararity Auctions on Sunday, October 1. The Washington DC-based collectors were well-known buyers in the field and according to the auction house, their estate includes “a collection loaded with rare objects dating from distant prehistory, up to the present.”
The Nooters first became interested in African art when working in Liberia in the 1960s. They continued collecting after their return to the US, when Robert Nooter joined the board of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, a post he held for 23 years.
As the collection grew, the Nooters authored books on the subject, loaned pieces from their collection to many exhibitions and donated others to a series of museums. Bonhams conducted a 59-lot sale from the collection in 2021.
The Ararity Auctions’ sale is led by a 19th-century Northwest Coast Tlingit copper and abalone bear mask, estimated at $20,000-$40,000. Tlingit metal objects were made from both trade goods and the more valuable native ore mined and smelted locally. These masks, shaped with minimal forging around a wooden form, were worn by the medicine men as they reached a trance-like state at potlatches.
Colima dog figurines are among the most admired objects from the pre-Columbian era. Dogs were a foodstuff but also a symbol of healing and companionship in Mesoamerica. These expressive red clay sculptures of small, hairless, fattened dogs were often left in shaft tombs as a funerary offering of food and protection for the dead’s underworld journey. Most have been found in the western Mexican state of Colima. The example in the Nooter collection, dated to between 200 B.C. and 200 A.D., is estimated at $1,000-$1,500.
Dating to around 1500 B.C. is a terracotta figure made by the Amlash culture. Estimated at $3,000-$5,000, it is typical of the highly stylized pottery models honoring a fertility or mother goddess, made in Persia in the first and second millennium. Recent research at the British Museum shows they were made not by modeling but by pouring a liquid clay into a mold. This example, measuring just shy of 12in high, has been subject to a thermoluminescence (TL) test in the Oxford Authentication lab, which confirms the dating. The Nooters purchased it in London at the Rabiraffi Gallery in 1980.