Native American Blanket
Selection of Native American Art
GETTING STARTED AS A COLLECTOR
WORKS OF PURPOSE & POWER
Some people consider ethnographic art to be primitive. With a few authentic exceptions, I feel this is a misnomer that borders on a slur.
MARKET OVERVIEW: NORTH AMERICAN NATIVE TRIBES
MARKET OVERVIEW: OTHER REGIONS
Important Ethnographic Art at auction
Object ID Checklist
FBI & Interpol Fight Art Theft
FBI foils the sale of Geronimo's feathered headdress
For Native Amercian Beads, Try BeadRoom.com
Connect with 1,700 unique world artisans and select from over 8,500 handcrafted works of art!
NATIVE AMERICAN ART
Native American & Other Ethnographic Art: A
GETTING STARTED AS A COLLECTOR
Collecting indigenous art — also known as
ethnographic or tribal art — can be aesthetically and sometimes
financially rewarding. For instance, not long ago, some clients of mine
had found a beautiful 19th-Century Eskimo mask at a garage sale in
Seattle. It was marked "$10." They offered $5. The owner
accepted, and threw in a photo dated from 1923, showing some old
mountain man with the mask in Alaska — which enhanced the value of
the mask even more. In 1999 we sold the mask for $48,000.This couple
was lucky; neither knew anything about Eskimo masks, nor had any
special interest in them.
Indeed, ethnographic art isn't for everyone.
Typically, my clients are well traveled or have even lived abroad, and
appreciate cultures other than their own. Consequently, they have a
ready-made taste for ethnographic art and a deep respect for each piece
If you live in the United States, you'll find the
market is largely dominated by Native American art from the U.S. and
Canada, including Eskimo art (known in Canada as Inuit art). However,
the term "Native American art" often encompasses work by
Mexican Indians and other Latin American cultures, including the
ancient Incas and Mayans. (For this article, we'll concentrate on works
from the U.S. and Canada — the most popular indigenous art, in terms
of supply and demand - but we'll also touch on other regions of the
As with any art, you should buy what you love,
and know what you buy. But ethnographic art is a huge field,
encompassing countless cultures, periods, and artifacts — and it can
takes years to become an expert in even just one area. Furthermore,
popular objects are often faked. For instance, it's not uncommon to
find "Navaho" rugs that were actually made in Mexico,
"Southwest Native American" baskets made in Pakistan, Eskimo
and Northwestern masks that have been artificially aged, and other
forgeries or misrepresented works.
So what's a beginner to do? Here are some key
- Familiarize yourself with the market. Visit the
library (some book suggestions are
listed later in this article). Take note of what you like, and what
sort of prices those items command.
- Find a trustworthy auctioneer or dealer.
Auctions previews, in particular, provide a wonderful way to learn
more about ethnographic art, without feeling any pressure to buy.
Not only can you see the objects in person, but — assuming you're
dealing with a reputable dealer — a
trustworthy expert will be on hand, happy to answer questions.
- Be cautious of galleries that cater to
tourists. While many ethnographic art dealers are honest, some —
especially those in highly touristed areas — specialize in
extorting obscene prices for mundane or even fraudulent works. A
reputable dealer or auction house has no interest in ripping you
off, since they hope to cultivate a lifelong relationship with you.
- Be aware that conventional qualities don't
always apply to ethnographic art. For instance, bigger is not always
better; with some artifacts, a smaller example might be more
valuable. And rarity, while often desirous, can pose problems: When
a truly unusual piece of Pre-Columbian pottery comes along, for
instance, it might be very valuable — or it might prove difficult
to sell, because collectors could be wary of buying something
without a precedent.
- Don't be put off by minor damage. Since we're
talking about old and ancient works, it's natural to find signs of
wear and tear. (In the case of objects meant to have been worn, such
as masks, no such telltale signs might suggest a fake.) Minor chips,
nicks, and tears can turn a beautiful and expensive object into a
beautiful and affordable one.
- Be on the lookout for works that have been
improperly cared for or "restored." Excessive humidity,
for instance, can warp woodwork or foster mold or rot, especially on
an item made of animal skin; too little humidity can cause cracks.
Direct sunlight can fade the color of any object. And older silver
objects, such as jewelry, acquire a dulled — and highly valued —
patina; cleaning them might return their luster, but dramatically
cut their value. (Always be sure to consult an expert before
cleaning any valuable artwork.)
Considering the immense scope of ethnographic
art, of all these guidelines, the second is certainly the most
important. In fact, as long as you deal with a respected, established
source, you have nothing to fear.
Finally, as you learn more about the field,
you'll find there are qualities to some ethnographic works that are
shared by no other art form, as this next story illustrates...
WORKS OF PURPOSE & POWER
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
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
The History and Hallmarks of Hope Silversmithing
by Margaret Nickelson Wright
The Complete Guide to Traditional Native American Beadwork:
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
A Legacy of Silver and Stone
by Lois Essary Jacka, Jerry Jacka