NEW YORK, NY. - On 22 May 2013 in New York Sotheby’s will hold the inaugural sale of Arts of the American West, celebrating the history and visual culture of the American West. The sale will showcase the best examples of American Indian artistic traditions as well as Western paintings and works on paper spanning 2000 years of these cultural and aesthetic traditions. Among the exciting discoveries in the sale is the The Bowstring Warrior Society Ledger - the earliest recorded piece of Native American pictographic art on paper (est. $30/50,000). Other highlights include the Dwight Lanmon Collection of Historic Pueblo Pottery, A Crow Beaded Hide Man’s War Shirt, a Portrait of Big Buffalo, A Chippewa by Charles Bird King, and Joseph Henry Sharp’s The War Bonnet. Overall the sale is estimated to fetch $4.2/6 million.
David Roche, Senior Consultant in Sotheby’s American Indian Art Department said: “The American West has been a deep source of inspiration for an astonishing variety of artists over the centuries and equally a source of inspiration for collectors who respond to its spirit and unique character. We are delighted to bring these diverse artistic traditions together as a single auction.”
A major highlight of the sale is An Important Cheyenne Ledger Book Of Pictographic Drawings, the oldest-known ledger book of Plains Indian drawings (est. $30/50,000). The book was mostly created during the 1850s by elite warriors of the Southern Cheyenne nation and was given to a seven year old white child who was kidnapped and saved in 1864. In contrast to other early collections of Cheyenne drawings, all of which are in museums or institutions, this Bowstring Warrior Society Ledger shows no hostilities with the US military. This, along with the drawing and clothing styles date the ledger to around the 1850s. The child, Ambrose Asher, was placed in the care of a Denver family following his release from captivity and the ledger has remained with that family until now.
Crow War Shirts are highly regarded for their beauty and distinct aesthetic and an important example is included in the sale. The Crow Beaded Hide Man’s War Shirt once belonged to Richard Taylor (1826-1879), the son of President Zachary Taylor and remained in the family collection for decades (est. $200/300,000). Crow shirts were only worn by men who had been successful in battle and the amount and variety of black paint on this example indicates that the owner distinguished himself in combat many times.
The Jane and Bill Buchsbaum Collection celebrates the unique cultural and individual appeal of Modern and Contemporary Pueblo Pottery. Pottery families or matriarchies are well represented in the sale, particularly those of pottery visionary Maria Martinez and her son Popovi Da (1922-1971) and his son (Maria’s grandson) Tony Da (1940-2008). A highlight is a polychrome piece made by Maria Popovi (est. $30/50,000).
Another important private collection in the sale is the Dwight and Lorraine Lanmon Collection of Historic Pueblo Pottery. Mr. Lanmon is director emeritus of the Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum, Winterthur, Delaware, and is retired director of the Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, New York. Mrs. Lanmon is a retired professor of art history specializing in American art and architectural history. Together they have put together a remarkable collection that includes several examples that represent landmarks in the history of Pueblo Indian ceramics such as An Acoma Polychrome Jar (est. $40/60,000).
Other American Indian highlights include A Northwest Coast Polychrome Wood Frontlet (est. $175/225,000), A Rare Pair of Paiute Pictorial Coiled Baskets by Lucy Telles (est. $70/100,000), and A Rare and Important Okvik Ivory Figure depicting a pregnant woman (est. $150/200,000).
The selection of Western paintings and works on paper on offer in the May auction will be led by Eanger Irving Couse’s Decorative Panel from 1916 (est. $120/180,000). A founding member of the Taos Society of Artists, Couse is revered for his scenes of daily Native American life, which depict scenes of indigenous life and culture with a sense of tranquility. This large-scale and compositionally-complex panel – which has remained in a private collection since its commission from the artist in 1916 – demonstrates the Couse’s meticulous skills as a draughtsman, as well as his masterful ability to render the fleeting effects of light and shadow on the natural world. Also on offer from a founding member of the Taos School is Joseph Henry Sharp’s The War Bonnet, a brilliant depiction of an Indian warrior, seated at his campfire adding to his already gloriously decorated head dress (est. $120/180,000).
Charles Bird King was a significant early American portraitist, best known for his portrayals of important Native American leaders and tribesmen. In 1821, King received a commission from his friend, Thomas L. McKenney – the Superintendent of Indian Trade – to create oil portraits of important tribesmen from the Michigan territory, copied from watercolor sketches made by Detroit artist James Otto Lewis. King ultimately executed approximately 25 of these works, which were displayed in McKenney’s Indian Gallery in Washington, D.C. Painted in 1826, Portrait of Big Buffalo, A Chippewa demonstrates the sense of stately dignity with which King depicted these historical figures (est. $100/150,000).
In 1837, Sir William Drummond Stewart – a retired Captain of the British army and a Scottish nobleman – invited the Baltimore painter Alfred Jacob Miller to accompany him as a commissioned artist on a trip to the Rocky Mountains, where they traveled on what would become the Oregon Trail. Depicting his daily impressions of this vast and unfamiliar environment, these works showcase the artist’s inimitable ability to render the idyllic but vanishing wilderness and fauna of the American West. Property from the Bank of America Collection on offer in the auction includes two such examples, whose proceeds will benefit non-profit organizations: Rocky Formations near the Nebraska or Platte River (est. $20/30,000), and Antelope (est. $15/25,000).
Arnold Friberg’s The Eyes of Chief Joseph of 1975, from the Holter Museum of Art sold to benefit the acquisitions fund is a striking example of the artist’s work that is a highlight of the contemporary material on offer (est. $30/50,000). Originally trained as an illustrator, Friberg studied with Norman Rockwell under the artist Harvey Dunn. The present work epitomizes the distinctive, romanticized vision of the American West and its inhabitants that Friberg cultivated throughout his prolific career. The sale’s contemporary works also include R. Brownell McGrew’s Fleece of Earth and Sky, which depicts two young Native Americans driving their flock through the desert (est. $20/30,000). The monumental painting is imbued with the admiration McGrew felt for the land and the people of the American Southwest, and demonstrates the visual luminosity for which the artist is so well known. Other Western works also on offer include those by Albert Bierstadt, Grace Carpenter Hudson, Frederic Remington and Olaf Carl Seltzer.