MONROVIA, Calif. – Maranda Moran grew up in a family of collectors, being pulled out of bed in the wee hours at a young age to accompany her parents to garage and estate sales, flea markets and auctions. At age 16, she was operating her own antiques booth in an antiques mall, specializing in fine and decorative arts from the turn of the century to the 1950s. Apt at sussing out choice, hard to find objects d’art for clients and armed with a degree in art history and history from UCLA, she turned her expertise into a career. In 1994 she joined her husband’s firm, John Moran Auctioneers, as a fine and decorative specialist with a concentration in Western and Native American art, a booming market genre.
How did you develop an affinity for Western and Native American art?
I grew up living in what they call a California airplane bungalow, and my parents went from kind of owning dainty Victorian furniture to really moving into Arts and Crafts. My dad was a huge buyer of Navajo textiles, so I just grew up with those on the wall, thinking that they were art. I had that as a knowledge base. As I get older, I really like seeing the actual hand of the craftsman in whatever it is, whether it’s a French painted porcelain piece or a Yokuts basket.
What’s the market like for those types of art?
The last three sales we had [in this field] have been pretty strong so the market, from our point of view, has been pretty fantastic. Our very last live Art of the American West auction before the COVID-19 lockdown in March 2020 was fantastic. In that sale, we had a selection from the Hodosh collection of first phase early Navajo jewelry and textiles, and we set records for that. Then we moved into mid-COVID-19 and had a really strong response in fine art and bronzes. In the last sale [May 2021] we had a wide range of items. We had a Navajo Crystal room sized rug that brought $9,500 in pretty poor condition.
The May 2021 auction saw high prices for historic and contemporary artwork as well as 100% sell-through rates for rugs, blankets and baskets. Are you seeing new audiences?
I find that there are not only Western or American Indian buyers that are buying, but the wider population in general. I think that, definitely, COVID-19 helped with that. People now are looking at alternative sources besides your Restoration Hardware and your Urban Outfitters. These are things that appeal to a wide variety of people, and again, they are handmade. They reflect a culture that is in the limelight right now and that needs support and attention.
What are they buying?
Right now, we are really killing it with American Indian jewelry. That seems to be super-hot. Everybody wants something, and I’m getting prices that three years ago would have been impossible.
Is there still a big divide between those who buy historic Western art and those buying contemporary pieces?
Historical fine art in the Western genre is seeing a revived interest because you have all of these wonderful pristine landscapes that are nostalgic. People have traditionally gone to either contemporary or historical – there has generally been a divide. You either collect contemporary Western or American Indian, or you collect historical, and I would say that I see more of a blending of those two collectors right now, which is fairly atypical. You can have your John Nieto artworks, which are giant, colorful and Pop Art-ish, side by side with something that is historical and from the 1890s, so I am super excited about that.
What gives you the greatest satisfaction in your job?
I love my job and I love the discovery. I look at it as though each and every day is some sort of fantastic birthday where you open the box and think, “What’s going to be in the box?” I think the best part of my job is the surprise and the difference from day-to-day. I can be looking at a million-dollar collection in Beverly Hills, or at the beach, and the next day I am in a storage container in 116-degree weather, rifling through boxes. The unpredictability of it is what really gets me going in the morning. It’s the history of the objects – how did the object come to this family, how did they love it, how did they display it and how did they collect it. It’s like being a contemporary archaeologist, I get to go in and and kind of explore peoples’ intimate moments. Everybody has a relationship with spending money on an object, and the things that they collect tell a lot about a person. That’s where my passion is.
To contact Maranda Moran and discuss a future consignment to a John Moran Auctioneers sale, call 626-793-1833. Visit John Moran Auctioneers online. Click to view the company’s past auction catalogs, complete with prices realized.