Auction PR Publicity Announcements News and Information
Auction PR Publicity Announcements News and Information

Ancient & Tribal Art at Bonhams & Butterfields

Fine arts auctioneers Bonhams & Butterfields bring Ancient & Tribal Art to auction in San Francisco on Monday, February 16th, 2009 – President’s Day, with a vibrant exhibition and auction of African, Oceanic, Pre-Columbian and Native American art, timed to coincide with the annual Caskey-Lees’ Tribal and Textile Arts Show held in San Francisco at Fort Mason and just prior to KR Martindale’s Show of the Americas in Marin. Culled from private collections and estates, the sale includes a diverse array of masks, carvings, a selection of war shields from various cultures, gold and silver jewelry, textiles, beadwork, baskets and pottery.

kota.jpgStandout African works of art include a fine Kota reliquary figure from the Chicago Estate of Sherl K. Coleman (est. $12/18,000). Composed of a brass and copper metal appliqué over a wooden form, this large and powerful example originates from the Franceville region of Gabon. Often referred to as “guardian figures” or Mbulu Ngulu, they were placed atop a sacred basket of important ancestral relics (called bwete) and hidden from view. In the early 1900s, Christian missionaries in this region were particularly thorough in converting the tribal peoples and ordered the destruction of spiritual and cultural artifacts. Highly sought after for their abstract sculptural qualities, which are said to have inspired many of the great European modernist painters, authentic Kota sculpture is rare; impressive examples like that on offer, exceedingly so. Two fine Dan masks from European collections (est. $6/8,000 and $15/20,000), exemplify the powerful craftsmanship of West Africa.

Melanesian highlights include two Tolai Lor masks from New Britain (est. $4/6,000 and $8/12,000) and an intricately carved Austral Islands dance paddle, formerly of the Fortess Collection (est. $7/9,000.)

A diverse selection of war shields should attract collector interest: from Melanesia come examples from the New Guinea Highlands (estimates between $1,500 and $4,000), from New Britain (estimates between $700 and $1,000), and from Irian Jaya, including an Asmat shield covered with curvilinear patterns related to head hunting (est. $2/3,000). From South Africa come a set of five Zulu shields collected in 1947 (est. $2,500/3,500). From Southeast Asia come two Dayak war shields, both collected in Borneo in 1930, each could bring as much as $4,500. Of local interest are three Philippine shields from the collection of Clarence Navarre Wolfe, Sr. of Burlingame, CA (est. $1,000/1,500).

Among the pre-Columbian offerings is a collection of Sinú gold adornments (circa 400-1000 A.D.) Renowned for their gold work, the Sinú people flourished along the Atlantic floodplains of Colombia until the arrival of Spanish conquistadors in the early 16th century. Included are pectorals (estimates between $2,000 and $5,000); a 13-inch long openwork breastplate constructed of flat trapezoidal plaques of gold (est. $15/25,000); and four gold bells in the form of human heads with avian headdresses – ranging in width from four-inches to just over two-inches wide (est. $20/40,000). As well, figural pendants and a pair of heavy gold nose ornaments round out the collection.

Other pre-Columbian objects include a Moche scepter in gold, 17-inches long, capped with a crouching monkey figure above a bird head with inlaid turquoise-colored eyes (est. $5/8,000) and a 23-inch high Nayarit warrior figure (circa 150 B.C.-250 A.D.) clasping fan-shaped weapons could bring $2/4,000. A 21-inch tall Mayan polychrome stucco seated figure wears an emblematic pendant and clasps a short staff in one hand (est. $15/25,000). Another interesting Mayan lot is a ceremonial limestone disc, 25-inches in diameter, likely an altar or marker. It was possibly set into the floor of a plaza or ballcourt. Dating to the Early Classic period (circa 500 A.D.) and carved in shallow relief, the central image shows a captive kneeling figure bound at the wrists, encircled by sixteen glyphs; it is expected to bring $20/40,000.

Many of the Native American lots offered come from the Estate of Lynn D. Trusdell, the late owner of Crown & Eagle Antiques in New Hope, PA. Best known for her superlative collection of Southwestern jewelry, a small sampling of her collection is represented in the thirty lots offered in February’s sale (estimates between $300 and $2,000). Other property from her estate includes kachina dolls, Southwest pottery, baskets, Plains beadwork and material culture, and Navajo weavings. Property from McGee’s Indian Den of Scottsdale, AZ and the Harriette Lubetkin Collection of Des Moines, IA are also well represented.

Preview days and the Monday auction should attract an international pool of collectors, as well as those members of the trade, curators and enthusiasts attending the local trade shows. The illustrated auction catalog is online for review and purchase at