Native American & Other Ethnographic Art: A Brief Overview

 

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Chatelaine's Antiques & Appraisals Magazine > Jewelry > Expert Tip: Buying Antique Native American Jewelry
 


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Selection of Native American Art

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MARKET OVERVIEW: NORTH AMERICAN NATIVE TRIBES

MARKET OVERVIEW: OTHER REGIONS

Important Ethnographic Art at auction

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ANTIQUE NATIVE AMERICAN ART
 
 Native American & Other Ethnographic Art: A Brief Overview

MARKET OVERVIEW: OTHER REGIONS

Among other types of ethnographic art, I most commonly encounter pre-Columbian works from Mexico and other parts of Latin America. We do also see tribal works from Sub-Saharan Africa, the South Pacific (including Australia and New Zealand), and Southeast Asia — and while these can be very valuable, there is generally a lesser demand for them among collectors in North America.

Pre-Columbian Art of Latin America
This refers to works that were created prior to Columbus' arrival in the "New World" (1492). Most of what's on the market is from Mexico, Central America, and the northern and west coastal regions of South America, including Colombia, Peru and Chile.

The great Mayan culture ruled from Mexico to Honduras. Their most collectible pieces include painted ceramics from the classic period of 550-990 AD; the best pieces can fetch more than $100,000.

Ancient ceramics from western Mexico are surprisingly common, since many artifacts were buried, along with the deceased, in shaft-style tombs. Beautiful works depicting figures or objects from all walks of life — and 2,000 years old or more— can be found for as little as $75 to $100.

From the Peruvian coast come ancient textiles, typically at least 500 years old, which often were used to wrap mummies. Fragments of this cloth can be found for less than a few hundred dollars, though an intact blanket or poncho may be extremely valuable. Textile doll figurines are also popular — though be careful: Original pieces have flat-woven facial features and are worth at least $1,500; modern copies have embroidered features and are made of textile scraps, and are worth very little.

Sub-Saharan African Art
Pieces tend to include wooden masks and sculptures — plus, occasionally, metalwork, pottery, carved ivory or stone, and textiles. Most artwork is from West and Central Africa, especially Nigeria, the Ivory Coast and Zaire. Affordable pieces, say under $1,000, tend to be from the mid-20th Century; masterpieces of earlier authentic work can easily run into the tens or hundreds of thousands, if not millions. The preponderance of faked work (such as modern masks that have been artificially worn down) keeps many would-be buyers at bay.

Oceania (Pacific, Australia, New Zealand)
Spanning a huge geographical range, Oceanic art includes distinctive works by the tribal peoples of New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Hawaii, Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, and other islands — as well as the Aborigine of Australia and Maori of New Zealand.

Common items include masks, sculptures, bowls, utensils, tools, and boomerangs and other weaponry, mostly made of wood. Maori stone jewelry and artifacts, made of jade-like nephrite, are also sometimes seen. Most works are of 20th-Century origin; earlier authentic works, as with African art, tend to be very rare and collectible.

Tribal Southeast Asia
This is a very small market, at least for genuine articles of interest to collectors in North America. Most artifacts are from tribal areas in the Philippines and Indonesia. They're typically wooden carvings — sculptures, masks, spiritual guardian figures, and weapons — along with some beadwork and shellwork. Most pieces are 19th and 20th Century, and the right ones can be quite appealing. For instance, we recently sold an early 20th-Century wooden baby carrier from Borneo for $13,800.

WHERE TO GO FROM HERE

As you can tell, there's an immense range of ethnographic art, providing plenty of opportunities for collectors at all levels — as well as sellers.

If you have any interest in collecting — or selling — Native American or other ethnographic art, please contact me personally. I am always happy to provide prospective sellers with a no-cost appraisal, and to help prospective buyers learn more about this wonderful area of art.

 For further reading, you might wish to check out:

North American Indian Jewelry and Adornment by Lois Sherr Dubin

Native American Beadwork: Traditional Beading Techniques for the Modern-Day Beadworker
by Georg Barth, Bill Holm

Southwestern Indian Jewelry
by Dexter Cirillo

Crow Indian Beadwork:
A Descriptive and Historical Study

by William Wildschut

The Turquoise Trail: Native American Jewelry and Culture of the Southwest
by Carol Karasik, Jeffrey Jay Foxx

Hopi Silver:
The History and Hallmarks of Hope Silversmithing

by Margaret Nickelson Wright

 

 


 

Cecilia Henle - Many Ponies
Many Ponies
Cecilia Henle
Buy This Art Print At AllPosters.com

North American Indian Jewelry and Adornment by Lois Sherr Dubin

Native American Beadwork: Traditional Beading Techniques for the Modern-Day Beadworker
by Georg Barth, Bill Holm

Ethnographic Art

Southwestern Indian Jewelry
by Dexter Cirillo

Crow Indian Beadwork:
A Descriptive and Historical Study

by William Wildschut

The Turquoise Trail: Native American Jewelry and Culture of the Southwest
by Carol Karasik, Jeffrey Jay Foxx

Hopi Silver:
The History and Hallmarks of Hope Silversmithing

by Margaret Nickelson Wright

The Complete Guide to Traditional Native American Beadwork:
A Definitive Study of Authentic Tools, Materials, Techniques, and Styles

by Joel Monture, Larry McNeil

Zuni: A Village of Silversmiths
by James Ostler

The Beauty of Navajo Jewelry
by Theda Bassman, Gene Balzer

The Art of Native American Turquoise Jewelry
by Ann Stalcup

Navajo Jewelry:
A Legacy of Silver and Stone

by Lois Essary Jacka, Jerry Jacka