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Cowan’s Native American and Western Art Auction

A crowd of close to 100 people attended Wes Cowan’s recent auction of American Indian and Western art in Cincinnati on April 5, 2008. More than 400 lots were offered on site with an additional 200 being sold online.

“We had a great turnout both with floor bidders and with absentee bidders,” said Danica Farnand, director of American Indian Arts for Cowan’s, “and I think the prices reflect the activity.”

The majority of the higher priced items went to phone bidders, with the featured offering, Cincinnati artist Henry Farny’s Winter Encampment of the Crow Indians – a painting dating from 1882 – going for $285,000 with the 15 percent buyer’s premium, below its minimum estimated value of $300,000.

The realistic painting came out of Farny’s trip to North Dakota in 1881, where he immersed himself in the life of the Plains Indians. A French immigrant, he had settled in the U.S. with his parents, but had returned to Europe to study painting in Germany, where he learned techniques that were more advanced than most artists of his time depicting Western and Native American subjects.

He made frequent trips from his home in Cincinnati to the West up through the 1890s gathering materials for paintings, including another that was offered at the auction, Dangerous Ground, depicting an Apache Indian waiting in ambush. It went unsold, failing to meet the reserve of $200,000.

Another sketch by Farny, Waiting, the End, created sometime before 1890, and on which it is believed he based his later masterpiece, Rounded Up, by God, sold for $46,000, also below its estimated value. The Farny works were featured among native paintings by Cincinnati artists that the auction highlighted. Also included were five works by John Hauser, three by Victor Casenelli, and one by Apworth Adams.

In addition to the paintings, the diversified selection of art ranged from photographs, watercolors, moccasins, baskets, bags, dolls, beadwork, jewelry, pipes, tools, ceremonial artifacts, authentic hidewear and native dress, carvings, and sculpture, including a significant number cast in metal.

Among the latter was Alexander Phimister Proctor’s Indian on Horseback, which came from a museum in Angola, Ind., and which fetched the highest price of the metal sculptures, going for $23,000 – more than twice the estimated maximum value.

Another item that exceeded expectations was a 10 1/2-inch totem pole from the Northwest given to President Harding during a trip to Alaska, where he became ill and died shortly thereafter. That lot also included 11 silver gelatin prints from Harding’s trip. It sold for $4,025, tripling its estimated maximum value.

Thirteen lots of photographs and photogravures of Edward Curtis, among them his Oasis in the Badlands, an orotone depicting an Indian chief on horseback while his horse drinks from a stream, went for $8,250, well above its estimated $4,000-$6,000 value. Also among the Curtis works was a photogravure of Nez Perce Chief Joseph that sold for $2,530, above its estimated value of $1,000-$1,500. They were among a generous number of remarkable early photographs that included silver gelatin photographs by Roland Reed.

Cowan said his move to his new location, the site of a former electrical supply and construction company in the Elmwood Place section of Cincinnati in October, has proved beneficial. The single-floor building includes ample space for storage in addition to room for offices and the auction arena. No longer is it necessary to pack up and move the lots for auctioning. It also has 200 parking spaces and is easily accessed from Interstate 75. The museum quality of its displays and its spacious auction arena make Cowan’s Auction House a destination for both art lovers and collectors.

Cowan’s next auction, scheduled April 30 to May 2, will offer Historic Firearms and Early Militaria.

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