In mid-August, more than 100,000 people attended the 97th Annual Santa Fe Indian Market, the world’s largest and oldest juried Native American art show and market. Produced by the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts, the event featured 1,200 of the nation’s best Native American artists from approximately 100 tribes. I have no doubt that the artists did well, particularly because we are seeing an increase of demand for Native American arts and crafts in the secondary market.
Three items doing well at auction include:
Katsinas, or Kachina dolls, represent spirit beings, and in the Hopi culture, they are often given to young girls to help guide them into adulthood. Carved from dried cottonwood, they may feature colorful kilts and embroidered sashes with symbols of clouds, rain, corn and other crops. Some may have body paint with animal signs or fertility symbols. While Hopi katsinas are more common, the Zuni, Laguna and Acoma pueblos also make them. Like any piece of art, collectors will pay top dollar for authentic pieces from famous carvers. Earlier this month, we sold an Al Lomahquahu signed cumulus cloud katsina for $4,000. Other carvers in demand include Jimmy Kewanwytewa, Wilson Tawaquaptewa and Cooledge Roy, Jr.
Pueblo Pottery, such as bowls and vessels, can do well at auction depending on authenticity, condition and the tribe they came from. Authentic pieces will reveal that they were made using the coil method, where long tubes of clay are circled upward around a flat base to form the walls of a vessel. Painted geometric, animal and other patterns and colors can give a clue as to which tribe the piece originated from. Blackware pottery is also in demand, especially since the process to create it is more labor intensive. For example, Maria Martinez black-on-black ceramic pieces can sell for several thousand dollars if in pristine condition.
Navajo Rugs make for great statement pieces, whether they are used as wall hangings or rugs. On average, we see Navajo rugs sell from $500 to $2,000, but because the number of Navajo weavers in this 300-year-old tradition is dwindling, I would not be surprised if we see prices increase. Condition is always a factor, but other things collectors look for include size, the age of the rug, color, design, the weight of the wool and tightness of weave.
We’re fortunate to live in the Southwest where we can find original pieces of art from established and emerging Native American artists. And, with Baby Boomers downsizing and selling their collections, you don’t have to look far to find valuable pieces of Native American art on the secondary market.
Erik Hoyer owns EJ’s Auction & Consignment in Glendale.