Bidders Hunt & Gather Native American & Ethnographic Treasures At Willis Henry Sale

A large Mimbres pottery bowl brought $33,930.

ROCKLAND, MASS. — Having achieved its 40th year, Willis Henry Auction looks forward to many more. The most recent sale brought Native American and ethnographic art objects to market May 26 for the delectation of dealers and collectors from all over. Much of the material was well documented, which made for an interesting event.

The highlight was a large (14½ inches), wafer thin Mimbres pottery bowl decorated with two large creatures with crosshatched beaver-like tails, horns, antennae and sawtooth designs that brought $33,930 from an Internet buyer who outlasted eight phones. The bowl retained a Sotheby’s tag indicating that it was lot 9 in an auction in the 1970s. It had been part of the estate of philosopher and writer Stefan Brecht, son of playwright Bertolt Brecht.

Three other Mimbres pottery bowls from the Brecht estate also retained old Sotheby’s lot labels. A 4½-inch example decorated with a large bee with a black head opened at $2,000 and five phones chased it until one took it for $7,605. A 2-inch example decorated with a small bumblebee went to the same phone bidder for $3,510. A 5-inch example decorated with a stylized fish sold to the same phone bidder for $4,680.

A Hopi Nampeyo-style seed jar in black paint with white outlines on polished orange slip sold on the phone for $2,340. A San Ildefonso water jar from the early Twentieth Century attributed to Maria and Julian Martinez was decorated with red pueblos and black ladders, plants and flowers and went to a phone bidder for $1,989.

Two Anasazi pottery vessels, one a globular jar and the other a globular canteen, both with geometric decorations, sold online for $1,755.

Eight phones pursued a Marquesas Island fiber fan that opened at $6,000 and ended when a New York collector took it for $29,250. The fan comprised tightly woven split pandanus leaves, with a small and rare delicate native repair; the hardwood handle was carved with two tiki that showed careful use, and the two were attached with sennit strands.

The Internet took a Mangaia Island ceremonial adze with a slate or volcanic stone and a carved head and a 39-inch open work handle for $2,340.

A Plains buckskin war shirt with long, abundant fringe with dark green beaded strips with yellow crosses and claw marks outlined in red sold in the gallery for $4,265. Another example with red, white and blue beaded strips, painted red sleeves, red dots around the midsection, fringe at the shoulders and under the arms and red wool edging on the collar sold for $702.

A beaded pouch that may have housed a strike-a-light with deep red seed beading with crosses had a beaded flap with a silver disk attachment, fringe with small tin cones and came from a Rhode Island collection. It sold online for $4,212.

The Plains tomahawk or skullcracker looked businesslike with rawhide decorated with red and white quillwork. It sold on the phone to a collector in Hawaii for $3,159. That collector was active throughout the sale, gathering Native American, Polynesian and other good material. The skullcracker bore Hingham historian John P. Richardson’s tag indicating that it was purchased by Hingham botanist Isaac Sprague on the 1840 John James Audubon expedition and that Richardson acquired it from Sprague’s niece. Willis Henry has sold material from the Richardson estate in prior auctions and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

Part of Richardson’s former home, a military storehouse built in 1685 for a town fort, will be relocated in late June from the original site to a lot that includes the Old Ordinary, a tavern built three or so years after the fort house. The project, in the works since autumn, is an all-volunteer endeavor, with organizations and individuals contributing time, money and skills.

A Nineteenth Century Iroquois carved wood false face mask with tin eyes, black and white pigment and attached horsehair had some damage to the nose that had been filled with minor in-paint. Its provenance included the estate of Colonel Leroy Barton, former harbormaster of New York City in World War II and assistant to the US secretary of the treasury. It sold on the phone to the Hawaii collector for $3,276.

Beaded pieces included a Sioux deerskin pipe bag, circa 1890, beaded with four images of blue and red teepees, each with an American flag, with tin cones on dyed red horsehair, which sold in the room for $2,691.

An Inuit stone sculpture of a kneeling mother with a child was signed by Mathew Aqigaad and sold online for $2,457.

The Hawaiian collector was particularly active in the pursuit of Northwest Coast material, taking a whale’s tooth in a dyed and woven basketry cover in red, yellow and purple for $2,691 and a fragment (the hilt and part of the blade) of a possibly Haida bone knife carved with a raven’s head with a hammered copper wrap for $2,223. The same bidder paid $1,989 for a Haida or Tsimshian bone pipe carved in the form of a totemic animal.

He also paid $1,404 for two Eskimo kayak models, one of darkened seal over a wood frame and the other with a lighter seal cover over a slatted ivory frame with a carved wood seated figure. One example retained a tag indicating that it was made by Henry Beston at Outermost House on Cape Cod and given by Elizabeth Coatesworth Beston to John P. Richardson. An absentee bidder paid $1,053 for another Eskimo kayak model with dark skin over a wooden frame with ivory tips on the ends, ivory runners and many other ivory pieces attached by sinew to the vessel. It sold with a pine covered mailing box from John S. Rosa, USCG, to Blanche Rosa of Lawrence, Mass., that retained the postmark Feb. 5, 1944.

Baskets of interest included a western Apache bowl with a central star and radiating bands with intersecting crosses that went to the same bidder for $1,989.

The same bidder pursued a lot of two Austronesian Igorot carved wood warrior wood shields, each with four woven bamboo strips that went for $1,755. The lot was accompanied by a framed photograph of a Kalasag warrior holding a spear and a similar shield. An Austronesian crossbow with 20 bamboo arrows and two steel arrow tips brought $468 from the same phone bidder. Both lots came from the Richardson estate.

All prices quoted reflect the buyer’s premium. For information, 781-834-7774 or

A delighted New York collector paid $29,250 for an Eighteenth or Nineteenth Century Marquesas Island fiber fan.

A 4½-inch Mimbres pottery bowl decorated with a large bee with a black head went for $7,605.

A Plains buckskin war shirt with long, abundant fringe with dark green beaded strips with yellow crosses and claw marks outlined in red sold in the gallery for $4,265.

A Nineteenth Century Iroquois carved wood false face mask went to a bidder in Hawaii for $3,276.

The Plains tomahawk or skullcracker with red and white quillwork sold for $3,159.

Willis Henry gets ready to sell historic artifacts and tribal art. His first sale was in a Marshfield church hall in 1973.


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