DALLAS — Superb examples from luminary basket weavers Louisa Keyser (Dat-so-la-lee), Scees Bryant and Elizabeth Hickox, featured in the Sept. 19, 2009, American Indian Art Auction at Heritage Auction Galleries in Dallas, have collectors buzzing about the singular artistry of the works as well as the controversial history of their representation by pioneering dealers Amy and Abe Cohn (Keyser and Bryant) and Grace Nicholson (Hickox).
"The baskets of Dat-so-lee-la and Scees Bryant exemplify the transformation of Washoe basketry in the late 19th and early 20th centuries from a domestic utensil to a fine art," said Delia Sullivan, Director of American Indian Art at Heritage, "and in the work of Elizabeth Hickox you have an artist whose work stands out among all other Californian basket weavers for its extreme delicacy, as well as its technical and aesthetic refinement."
As these artists were creating their work in the early 20th century, the dealers that represented them not only saw the beauty in their amazing work, but also the potential behind the "stories" of their artists, which were frequently romanticized to entice non-native collectors to pay larger sums. Ultimately, with history as the judge, the stories were unnecessary, as the artistic genius of each creator has easily stood the test of time. More information is available on these artists, and their stories, at www.HA.com/AmericanIndian.
Dat-So-La-Lee’s superb Washoe Polychrome coiled jar with lid, no. 62, represents the pinnacle of the form. Woven of willow, redbud, and bracken fern root, and decorated with columns of diamond motifs, the basket is accompanied by an unsigned letter, presumably written by Abe Cohn, which amply illustrates the dichotomy of the patronizing attitude the dealers took to the artist all the while understanding the true greatness of the work. The jar is estimated at $400,000-$600,000.
The artist is further represented in the auction by another Washoe Coiled Degikup, no. 66. Three intricate and sublime serrated zigzag bands circumscribe the body of the jar and demonstrate Dat-so-la-lee’s seemingly effortless mastery of the form. It is estimated at $60,000-$80,000.
A Washoe Coiled Degikup by Scees Bryant offers a wonderful example, finely and tightly woven of willow and bracken fern root, with a series of stepped diamonds stacked into five columns about the body. Three original tags are attached at various places on the body and interior, putting the original 1915 price at $300, quite expensive for the time. It is estimated to bring between $60,000-$80,000 in this auction.
Elizabeth Hickox is represented by a trio of lots – two baskets and a hat – all fashioned in her signature intricately detailed Wiyot-Karuk Polychrome Twined style. The first example, estimated at $20,000-$30,000, is finely and tightly woven of maidenhair fern and pale yellow-dyed porcupine quills over a hazel and conifer root foundation, with half-twist overlay design of stepped linear bands on the exterior and a ticked circular band on the interior, with a fitted lid. The second basket, estimated at $18,000-$22,000, is made via the same process as the first, but features a half-twist overlay design of serrated diagonal bands on the exterior and concentric circular bands on the interior. Hickox’s Polychrome Twined hat rounds out the offerings from the artist in exquisite style with a complicated half-twist overlay design of serrated elements on the exterior. It is estimated at $10,000-$15,000.
Further highlights include, but are not limited to:
A Second Phase Navajo Chief’s Pattern Wearing Blanket, circa 1860-1865, tightly woven of native handspun churro wool in natural ivory and brown, indigo-dyed blue, and raveled bayeta in cochineal-dyed red, with a Second Phase Chief’s pattern. Estimate: $75,000-$95,000.
A Third Phase Navajo Chief’s Pattern Wearing Blanket, circa 1865-1870, woven of native handspun churro wool in natural ivory and brown, two shades of indigo-dyed blue, and raveled bayeta in cochineal-dyed red, with a Third Phase Chief’s pattern. Estimate: $40,000-$60,000.
A Late Classic Navajo Serape, circa 1870-1875, tightly woven of native handspun churro wool in natural ivory and indigo-dyed blue, and raveled bayeta in shades of cochineal-dyed red, with a pattern of finely serrated zigzag bands enclosing small geometric motifs. Estimate: $15,000-$25,000.
Three Crow or Plateau Quilled and Beaded Buffalo Hide Panels, circa 1860, probably from a blanket strip; each rosette and rectangular panel decorated with horsehair wrapped with natural, green and red-dyed porcupine quills, enclosed by beaded bands, stitched with sinew in various shades of glass seed beads, with typical geometric designs. A very rare example. Estimate: $12,000-$18,000.
An early pair of Intermontane Quilled Buffalo Hide Moccasins, circa 1850, each "keyhole" with a circular panel of red wool trade cloth, enclosed within an elevated spiral of horsehair, wrapped in natural, blue and red-dyed porcupine quills, long hide ties and soft soles. Estimate: $18,000-$22,000.
Excellent grouping of important early American Indian photographs, including an important sixth plate daguerreotype of an Iroquois man in full dress, a large half plate tintype of a prairie Indian holding a “gun stock” war club, eleven 10 1/2-inch by 17-inch imperial cabinet photos of identified chiefs including Chief Joseph, mostly by Charles M. Bell, and some 30 additional fine 19th century images.
Heritage Auction Galleries is the world’s third largest auction house, and by far the largest auctioneer of rare collectibles, with annual sales more than $700 million.
For more information about Heritage’s auctions, and to join and gain access to a complete record of prices realized, along with full-color, enlargeable photos of each lot, visit www.HA.com.
Photos courtesy Heritage Auction Galleries.