Willow shines light on little-known Papua New Guinea explorer, Nov. 16
LINCOLN PARK, N.J. – After a year of meticulous research, Willow Auction House is proud to announce the Louis Pierre Ledoux’s Papua New Guinea Collection – Important Papers, Photographs and Artifacts from his 1936 Expedition to the Sepik River. The auction will take place November 16 at 12 noon Eastern time. Absentee and Internet live bidding will be available through LiveAuctioneers.
In early 1936, on a recommendation by American anthropologist Margaret Mead, Louis Pierre Ledoux, a recent Harvard University graduate, headed to the lower eastern Sepik River of Papua New Guinea to study the Murik people. The result of his self-funded expedition was an extraordinary collection of hundreds of artifacts, photographs, manuscripts, diaries, and letters left untouched for 85 years.
Ledoux’s collection includes exquisitely carved masks, ancestor figures, spears, and cassowary bone daggers. There are grass skirts, basket bags, and bilum string bags decorated with small shells. Body ornamentation, such as plaited armbands, beaded necklaces, and mother of pearl nose pieces are also included, some bearing original labels describing their origin and purpose. Hundreds of photographs, including contact sheets, original prints, and enlarged prints provide further insight to the lower Sepik River region in the 1930’s.
Ledoux never published his manuscript, instead joining his family’s lucrative metallurgy company. He kept the unfinished manuscript, together with handwritten and typed field notes, observations and diaries, including comments by Margaret Mead and her subsequent husband, British anthropologist Gregory Bateson. She concludes one section of her commentary with “And I think it ought to make a very interesting and valuable book.”
Lots on offer include a Lower Sepik River carved wooden Murik mask, with shell ornament around eyes and red and yellow pigments decoration. Papua New Guinea is home to a vibrant mask culture, and each region has its own style. One identifying feature of Murik masks is their long trunk-like nose (or beak), and a spiral spider design known as a mabaranego; the spider represents precision and intricacy. The example in the sale is estimated at $7,000-$9,000.
Another notable artifact is an openwork carved Lower Sepik River figure, reflecting the Kopar / Angoram style. It features white stripes, red and yellow pigment, shell, and rope ornamentation. The Metropolitan Museum of Art describes a similar openwork figure attributed to the collection of Wolfgang Paalen, a Surrealist painter. The long beak-like nose and lean body likely represent powerful spirits, as being used perhaps as dance wands. It is estimated at $20,000-$30,000.
Yet another intriguing offering is a basket bag with handles, created in the Murik Lakes region of the lower Sepik River area, estimated at $200-$400. It has fibrous tufts at its corners and an intricate multi-colored (grey, beige, red) weave design. Plaited basket bags were the most valued goods amongst Murik trade partners offshore. While both men and women made shell and teeth ornaments, only women wove the plaited basket bags. Each bag, depending on size, design, color, and use, could be traded for particular objects including tobacco, almonds and even pigs.
In his diary of his first few weeks in Kaup, Ledoux explains the trade value of the baskets: “Finely woven baskets are made by all of this talk and natives from Aitape and Medang and the islands come and trade for them”. Further, he explains that “The reason for its great value was that it could only be carried by important men during the mourning period, food collection, and could command a great deal of respect and gifts.”
Also a standout is a Lower Sepik River male figure with a long nose, a mask-like face and big round eyes. It displays a spiral design on its shoulders and shoulder blades, and it wears a fiber armband and a mal (loin cloth). Traditional Lower Sepik River figures that represent clan founders, actual ancestors, ancestor spirits, or mythical cultural heroes are generally called Kandimbong, and include small amulet (malita) figures and larger figures of human and/or anthropomorphic form. This particular figure is estimated at $20,000-$30,000.
Rounding out the highlights is a lot devoted to Louis Pierre Ledoux’s manuscript, field diary, and notes. The manuscript includes introductory pages, acknowledgements, and prefaces as well as six chapters, diaries, and topic-based pages of Ledoux’s time amongst the Murik of Kaup and Mendam in the Murik Lakes region of the lower Sepik River. It carries an estimate of $3,000-$4,000.
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