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Purchase Story

Native American Art

Frances McQueeney-Jones Mascolo | February 10th, 2017

Skinner Inc., Boston, Massachusetts

A single-owner collection of American Indian art that was offered at Skinner on February 10 in the Boston gallery was a mighty tempting treat for collectors and dealers. The Philip and Patricia Marco collection was begun in the mid-1980s after Patricia Marco made a visit to a Native American art show at the Park Avenue Armory in New York City. Once there she called her husband, who joined her at the show, and they were soon infected with the collecting bug. The couple runs a film production company that creates compelling images in print, cinema, and television for clients around the world. Their collection, much of which was from the 19th century, reflected their fine aesthetic eye and their love affair with the art and traditions of Native American people. They chose objects with the graphic qualities of their work. Moreover, most objects were carefully documented.

Thirty-five years after Patricia Marco’s visit to the Native American art show, the carefully gathered collection came to market. It was a tricky time to have an auction, as the gallery—indeed Boston itself—had been shut down because of a snowstorm that created blizzard conditions. The preview on the day before the sale didn’t happen, and the day of the sale was shockingly cold. Three chairs were filled in the audience, one of them by your reporter. No surprise: the action was largely on the phone and Internet.

The cover lot was the most heavily scrutinized. The 18th-century Huron quilled hide pouch in fine condition was exceptional. Its front was dyed black and had a band of porcupine quillwork in multicolored geometric designs, the central section and flap were embroidered with curvilinear and floral designs made with colored moose hair, and it had a border of metal cones and tufts of deer hair along the edge. Estimated at $15,000/20,000, it went for $61,500 (with buyer’s premium) to a phone bidder after competition between the phones and a bidder in the gallery.


This 18th-century Huron quilled hide pouch in fine condition is exceptional. Its black-dyed front has a band of porcupine quillwork in multicolored geometric designs, the central section and flap are embroidered with curvilinear and floral designs made with colored moose hair, and it has a border of metal cones and tufts of deer hair along the edge. Estimated at $15,000/20,000, it sold for $61,500 to a phone bidder after competition between the phones and a bidder in the gallery. The pouch generated significant institutional interest. Skinner photo.

The pouch was one of a number of lots that garnered significant institutional interest. It had been part of the Chandler-Pohrt collection, gathered by Milford G. Chandler and Richard A. Pohrt. The collection was exhibited between 1992 and 1994 in Art of the American Indian Frontier: The Chandler-Pohrt Collection and was published in the catalog of the same name. The pouch retained a label, “Pouch North American,” suggesting that the pouch had been part of a European collection at some time. That it remained in such fine condition was remarkable, given its age and that it likely had crossed the Atlantic at least twice in its life, according to a major museum representative. It had sold previously at Sotheby’s in 1985.

Headgear was another area of interest. A Blackfeet ermine skin headdress from the last quarter of the 19th century with a mountain sheep hide foundation covered with ermine strips, a red trade cloth brow band decorated with brass shoe buttons, and its horns wrapped in silk ribbons sold to a phone bidder for $39,975 (est. $15,000/20,000).The same phone bidder paid $22,140 (est. $15,000/20,000) for a Blackfeet ermine skin headdress from the last quarter of the 19th century with a felt cap covered with strips of ermine, multiple hair drops at the back, part of an animal tail, red-painted wood carved horns with dyed horsehair, brass hawk bells, and strings of glass beads. It had been acquired from the Alexander Gallery in New York City in the 1980s.


This Blackfeet ermine skin headdress from the last quarter of the 19th century has a mountain sheep hide foundation covered with ermine strips, a red trade cloth brow band decorated with brass shoe buttons, horns wrapped in silk ribbons, and a red-dyed horsehair drop. It brought $39,975 (est. $15,000/20,000).

An Eastern Plains or Prairie ball-headed relief-carved ash club, 27½" long, with a nail-decorated weasel at the top, blue pigment on the ball, and traces of red pigment overall sold on the phone for $12,300 (est. $12,000/16,000). The club is illustrated in Plains Indian Sculpture: A Traditional Art from America’s Heartland (1986) by John C. Ewers. A Western Great Lakes carved maple ball-headed club with a burl ball and a projection above the ball sold online for $4920 (est. $8000/12,000).


This Blackfeet ermine skin headdress from the last quarter of the 19th century has a felt cap covered with strips of ermine and with multiple hair drops at the back and part of an animal tail, red-painted carved wood horns with dyed horsehair, brass hawk bells, and strings of glass beads, and it sold for $22,140 (est. $15,000/20,000).

A Great Lakes carved effigy rattle, 9½" high, with a bird finial above a moose or buffalo hide sleeve with fringed dewclaw rattles and a honey-brown patina had a custom metal stand and sold for $9225 (est. $6000/8000). The rattle had been acquired from dealer William E. Channing, founder in 1987 and now chair of Wings of America, a nonprofit organization based in Santa Fe that supports Native American youth.

A 19th-century Great Lakes ornament, 6¾" x 61", made of snakeskin mounted on red and blue trade cloth with silk ribbon edging and a cluster of tin cones at the tail brought $2583 online (est. $800/1200). A Blackfeet hair decoration from the late 19th century with a painted rawhide disk with a brass gear at the center and a beaded border and with ermine and quill-wrapped hair drops, estimated at $800/1200, sold on the phone for $1968.

A pair of Cherokee buckskin moccasins from the 1830s was a highlight of the beaded lots. The pretty pair in black-dyed buckskin had velvet cuffs with remnants of silk edging and faceted glass and gold-washed metallic beading in floral and geometric designs. The pair, which had sold at Sotheby’s in 1985, sold to a phone bidder for $12,300 (est. $12,000/18,000). Another beaded highlight was a Lakota beaded hide knife sheath from the 1870s or so with a buffalo rawhide liner beneath an exterior of soft leather beaded with geometric designs and with long fringe with tin cones and remnants of red trade cloth. Estimated at $4000/6000, it brought $12,300 from the same phone buyer.


The final lot of the sale was this Micmac woman’s hood dated to the 1840s and decorated with white beaded scrolls and detailed silk appliqué on a black ground. It sold in the gallery for $24,600 (est. $20,000/30,000).

A 43" long Lakota painted wood pipe tamper wrapped with beading had horsehair drops at one end and two hourglass cutouts. It sold on the phone for $8610 (est. $3000/4000). Its provenance included the C.B. Clement collection and Economos Gallery, New York City.

For more information, visit (www.skinnerinc.com) or call (508) 970-3254.


Estimated at $3500/4500, this late 19th-century Plains Indian society staff, 60½" long, of tapered wood with a cloth-covered crook and fringe sold on the phone for $12,300. It had been acquired through the Alexander Gallery, New York City.


This Sioux painted buffalo hide dance shield, 19" in diameter, is mounted on a wood hoop with a cloth-wrapped wood rod at the back. The green-painted front has a painted deer head within three rectangles, and the interior is inscribed “Standing Rock Agency / Fort Yates N.D. / July 4, 1900.” It sold on the phone for $17,220 (est. $12,000/16,000). A photograph of a shield by the same maker is held in the National Anthropological Archives of the Smithsonian Institution.


With fine patina, this 4½" x 10½" Sioux catlinite pipe bowl in the form of a galloping horse with a minimally flared bowl emerging from its back and with incised detail brought $28,290 (est. $4000/6000) from one of the five phone bidders in hot pursuit of it. The pipe bowl is illustrated in Plains Indian Sculpture: A Traditional Art from America’s Heartland (1986) by John C. Ewers.


The stem of this 37½" long Western Great Lakes puzzle stem pipe from around the second half of the 19th century has geometric carving and is decorated with shells, a brass crescent, and red trade cloth fringe, and the black stone bowl is decorated with geometric lead and catlinite inlay. Estimated at $6000/8000, it brought $13,530 on the phone. According to the catalog, the pipe had been collected by Englishman James Taylor, who immigrated to Canada in 1852, and it descended to his great-great-grandson Gordon Taylor Murray of Toronto.


Originally published in the May 2017 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2017 Maine Antique Digest

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