DALLAS, Texas – A collector who traded a pair of “old Texas spurs and a few dollars” for a brown basket is $55,000 richer. According to Native American art scholars, the basket is an extraordinarily rare coil jar. An object created by the Chumash Tribe in the 1700s. The jar is the top seller in Heritage Auctions' Nov. 13 American Indian and Ethnographic Art auction. Prior to prompting a bidding battle the basket sat atop the consignors TV stand for the past 25 years.
Beauty of the Trade
About 25 years ago, collector Dr. James Bryan was shopping at a mall bazaar in central Texas. It's a place where people bought and sold – and sometimes traded – an array of goods. A tightly woven basket captures Bryan's attention during a certain visit.
“I just admired it,” Bryan said. “That one and another similarly woven Indian bowl – I really liked them. It just struck me as being such a beautifully woven basket. That just drove my attention to it. I [recane] chair seats, and understand the intricacies of creating a pattern, and repeating a pattern in such a tight space is amazing to me.
“So I traded [the seller] a pair of old Texas spurs and a few dollars for it.”
Bryan admitted that he had no idea what he had acquired. He view it as a collectible. “It sat on a TV
stand for about the next 25 years,” he said. “Occasionally, we would dust it. That’s it.”
The collectible turns out to be a centuries-old basket, the work of a member of the Chumash tribe. The Chumash people historically reside on the California coast. The 10-1/2” diameter jar is a creation of natural and dyed juncas and sumac plants.
A retired dentist who lives outside of Waco, Texas, Bryan has been a collector of sorts throughout his life. He remembers one of his first buys, a pewter saltshaker he acquired at age 9 “because I could only afford one.” He recently decided to part with some of his Indian art at the urging of his wife, who asked him to thin out some of his collections.
Brown Basket's Surprise Identity
“I had some 19th-century Indian leather pieces that recently had cropped up in my wonderful materials which I showed to Heritage Auctions,” he said. “When interest was expressed in the leather goods, I asked if baskets would be of any interest. Bryan showed the basket to Delia Sullivan, Heritage Auctions’ Senior Specialist and Consignment Director-Ethnographic Art.
“She said it turns out it’s a Chumash basket, probably from the 18th century, and might be worth $25,000,” Bryan said. “You could have knocked me over with a feather.”
As it turns out, that estimate was conservative. Bryan consigned the basket into Heritage’s Ethnographic Art: American Indian, Pre-Columbian & Tribal Jewelry Auction and watched as five bidders drove the final price all the way to $55,000.
While the result is thrilling, Bryan's celebration is subtle, but sincere.
“I was at the Baptist General Convention in Waco,” states Bryan. “I showed it to a total stranger and said, ‘doesn’t God work in interesting ways?’ He just smiled and said, ‘Amen!’”
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