SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. – Turner Auctions + Appraisals will present Native American and Inuit Art from the Estate of Michael Denman on Sunday, June 2, at 10:30 a.m. Pacific Time. An eclectic and enthusiastic collector for over 50 years, Denman was the well-known and popular owner of a San Francisco restaurant that is a favorite among locals. Bid absentee or live online through LiveAuctioneers.
Offering 225 lots, this sale features an intriguing selection of American Indian pottery and baskets; Inuit stone sculpture and carvings; Navajo rugs; Cape Dorset, Native American, Southwest and Hawaiian artworks; tribal arts magazines and catalogs; and Arts & Crafts furniture. Pottery comes from a variety of Southwest tribes, including the Pueblo, Hopi, San Ildefonso, Pomo, Zia, Santa Clara and Acoma. The sale also offers some African, Pre-Columbian, Eskimo and Latin American items. Rounding out the sale are items from several other collectors, including Old Pawn jewelry and more, such as necklaces, pendants, concho belts, bracelets, pins, rings, belt buckles, bolos and watch bands.
Michael Denman was born in Portland, Oregon, in 1929. Like his brothers Peter and Denny, Michael graduated from the Lakeside School in Seattle. After attending the University of Washington and majoring in business, he joined the U.S. Air Force and became a B-47 pilot in the Strategic Air Command. While stationed in Arizona, he began an interest in Southwest and indigenous art that continued throughout his life. Following his time in the military, Denman moved to San Francisco and worked as a realtor for Hill & Co., a San Francisco real estate and property management company.
Reflecting his real estate acumen, entrepreneurial streak and sense of adventure, in 1984 he and a partner leased a 1950s bait shop and the adjacent boat repair yard. Ideally situated on the San Francisco waterfront, he envisioned the site’s potential and possibilities, although at the time, the location was on the outskirts of town. Soon after, the bait shop became The Ramp, a popular locals’ hangout for dining, drinking and dancing – considered to be a hidden gem by its diverse patrons. As Peter Denman says, it was begun as “a laid-back place where everyone of different stripes could come for a bite and a drink and relax” – a spirit that still continues. Today, however, as San Francisco’s population grew and its footprint expanded, The Ramp’s location in the Dogpatch has become one of San Francisco’s most desirable areas to live and work.
Denman’s discerning eye wasn’t only for real estate. Beginning in the 1970s, he also became an avid collector of many things that piqued his interest. Several areas were of particular appeal, often broadened by family connections. Early on, he became a collector of Inuit works from Canada, specifically, from Cape Dorset and north of Hudson Bay. Denman became interested because Terry Ryan, the husband of his niece Leslie Boyd, launched Dorset Fine Arts in Toronto in 1978, as the wholesale marketing division of the West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative in Cape Dorset, Nunavut. Representing many acclaimed sculptors and drawing artists, Dorset Fine Arts was established to develop and serve the market for Inuit fine art produced by the artist members of the co-operative.
Likewise, his interest in the Southwest and Native America was inspired by the talents and enthusiasms of his great aunt, Leslie Van Ness Denman, a prominent San Franciscan with deep roots in the city: her grandfather (and Michael’s great-great-grandfather) James Van Ness served as its seventh mayor from 1855 to 1856. Mrs. Denman was active in promoting the welfare and artistic talents of the Navajo and Hopi tribes in the Southwest, encouraging artists in their work and identifying those who were superior. She served on the Indian lore committee for the San Francisco International Exposition in the 1930s. She also wrote many pieces on Southwest arts for the Grabhorn Press in San Francisco, which was the leading fine printing establishment in the U.S. from the early 1920s to the mid-1960s.
Inspired by his time in Arizona and his family relationships, Michael Denman began collecting Native American and Northern Canadian works of art, sourcing items at auctions, galleries and dealers in the Southwestern U.S. and Canada. Propelled by curiosity and avid reading, he continued to augment both the quantity and quality of the collection as his interest, fortunes and sophistication grew. As his brother Peter says, “Michael had exceedingly good taste and a good eye, both for elegance and quality. Starting there, he began his pursuit.”
Michael Denman passed away in late 2018. The collection comes to auction now because of logistics: Peter, the heir to the estate, and his wife, Susan, live in Hawaii, and their children are not able to house the collection. It is for these reasons that others can now enjoy the fine acquisitions of indigenous cultures amassed by Denman over 50 years.
The following are some highlights of the upcoming sale (see details in the online catalog):
– Lot 69: Inuit stone sculpture by Barnabus Arnasungaaq, Baker Lake, Nunavut, Canada. Mother and Children, circa 1990, 16in. x 11in. x 9in. Estimate: $1,500-$3,500.
– Lot 120: A Navajo transitional child’s blanket. Woven in Germantown green, indigo-dyed and handspun yarns; ex-Nelson Atkins Museum, Kansas City, Mo. Size: 4ft. 2in. x 2ft. 7in. Estimate: $2,000-$3,000.
– Lot 104: An Inuit lithograph. Ningeokuluk Tevee, Curious Bear, 29/50, signed at bottom, framed and matted Dimensions: 15¼in. x 18¼in. Estimate: $300-$500.
– Lot 142: Tillman Goodan (1896-1958), oil on board painting measures, 14in. x 18in., frame 21in. x 25in. Estimate: $1,000-$2,000.
– Lot 33: Laguna or Acoma polychrome jar. Minor restoration/paint in areas of the rim. Height: 10¼in.; diameter 11¼in. Estimate: $700-$1,000.
– Lot 5: Pomo basket. Height: 2½ in; Diameter 5in. Estimate: $500-$700.
– Lot 12: San Ildefonso redware plate. Marie & Julian (Martinez). Diameter: 13¾in. Estimate: $1,500-$2,000.
– Lot 24: Hopi polychrome plate. Similar in its simple abstract quality and white-painted accents to a number of bowls collected from the famous Hopi potter Nampeyo by Professor Ole Martin Solberg in 1903-04. These are in the Ethnographic Museum at the University of Oslo, Norway. Such work has also been attributed to Annie Healing, Nampeyo’s daughter. Height: 2¾in. Diameter: 9½in. Estimate: $500-$800.
– Lot 70: Inuit stone sculpture. Artist unidentified. Signed in syllabics. Kinngait (Cape Dorset), Nunavut, Canada. “Bear and Seal.” Circa 1970. Serpentine. 12in. x 16½in. x 7in. Estimate: $1,000-$2,000.
– Lot 44: Rare Eskimo wood figure. Highly weathered, though, with much underlying dark patina remaining. Height: 9 1/8 in. Estimate: $1,000-$1,500.
– Lot 164: Madge Tennent, Hawaiian Girl, print on canvas, 34in. x 21½in., frame 41in. x 28in. Estimate: $80-$120.
– Lot 138: Large Navajo Teec Nos Pos rug. Size: 9ft. 11in. x 6ft. 3in. Estimate: $3,000-$4,000.
For more information, contact Stephen Turner, president of Turner Auctions + Appraisals, at 415-964-5250 or firstname.lastname@example.org.