Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Welcome Back to "Behind the Block"!

I am happy to say that our blog with a comment field is back in operation! This post is a duplicate of the one on the Department page, but I will try this fresh.


With only a week since the completion of the March American Indian Art auction, the September sale has begun forming already. We are pleased to offer the Van Zelst's American Indian art collection which consists of some very nice northwest coast carvings, both early and contemporary, in addition to pottery and paintings by Native artists.

Other pieces have also already made their appearance; on Monday, a beautiful Haida argillite pipe arrived in the mail fully carved with openwork depicting two men bent backwards, a raven, and an eagle.

I hope you enjoy the photograph of the pipe and as always, if you have any comments, I would love to hear from you!

Haida Argilite Pipe Bowl

Friday, May 22, 2009

A Long Time with No Update

Since we last chatted... a group of Eskimo dolls have come in - some are pretty interesting - they range in date from late 19th century to contemporary. The more contemporary dolls will be sold in our online auction. It has taken me a good week and a half to go though all these little sealskin clothed personalities... and unfortunately, I had a dream last night about a couple of them... and yes - they were talking to me...

Two weeks ago - but perhaps it was last week - I went down to Tennessee and picked up a nice grouping of baskets - California and Southwest, a couple tomahawks, and a few other beaded odds and ends - pipe bags, moccasins, etc. I was happy.

Signing out - danica

A couple of the dolls that were chatting to me in my dream... these ladies and gents will be in the September 12th, 2009 catalogued auction.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The salesroom

The past few days have been partially spent setting up the auction - the rest of the days have been spent on the phone. Here are a few shots of how the auction is looking!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

April 4th Auction

The catalogue is FINISHED! Take a look - I hope you like what you see!

American Indian and Western Art Auction

Friday, February 27, 2009


Thunderbirds fly here, there, and everywhere, some alighting among Indian arrows, snakes, and whirling logs. A multitude of southwestern silver or copper curio trade items—bracelets, pins, rings, ashtrays, spoons, letter openers, and numerous other ornaments—are either stamped or embellished with this ubiquitous bird with wide-spread wings, profile head, and pointed beak. Objects with these trader-influenced motifs were lighter in weight and less expensive than traditional Indian jewelry, hence they held great appeal for tourists traveling in the Southwest. Herman Schweizer, manager for the Fred Harvey Indian department and known for his taste and business acumen, said that pawn jewelry (traditional old southwestern jewelry) was “too heavy for tourist taste” (Batkin 2008:113).

Curio trade items expressed the exotic charm of the Southwest. Initially, as early as 1903, they were made and sold by Indian silversmiths in a backroom at Harvey’s Alvardo Hotel in Albuquerque (115). A history of these items demonstrates that many objects were made and sold in shops all over the Southwest. Despite the difficulty of authenticating a genuine Harvey Company object from one purchased or made elsewhere, these southwestern antiques have become highly desirable collectors’ items. Therefore, peeking into the manufacturing history of trade curios reveals some fascinating information.

From about 1910 to 1940 some of these trade items were completely handmade while others were made with the assistance of impressively specialized machines. Handmade jewelry meant that the smith used traditional Indian techniques—hand-cutting pieces from a hand-hammered block of silver or a Mexican peso, then laboriously filing, stamping, and polishing each object. Machines shortened the endeavor by creating commercial sheet silver and machine drawn wire. A pair of handmade earrings, for example, would sell for about four dollars, whereas machine-made earrings could be made at the rate of thirty per minute and “purchased wholesale for six dollars per dozen.” (152). Thus, widespread confusion and distrust existed among consumers. Which objects were really Indian handmade versus those only Indian-designed and made mostly by machine? To make matters worse, some objects were not made or designed by Indians at all.

The Fred Harvey Alvarado Hotel in Albuquerque, the region’s best-known retailer sold thousands of these popular curio trade objects. While Indian silversmiths made many of the items sold at the Alvarado, similar pieces could be purchased across the street at the H. H. Tammen Company or from other traders (187). Silversmiths working in the backrooms of Tammen used machines for a wide range of jewelry making activities. One mechanized press was capable of stamping out one hemisphere of a half-inch silver bead(133).

Naturally, this makes it nearly impossible to determine genuine handmade Fred Harvey bracelets and objects from those made elsewhere or by machine. In fact a close examination of stamping dies from two different companies reveals that the designs are virtually indistinguishable (170-171). The dubious origins of Fred Harvey jewelry, combined with the fact that ideas and patterns were often flat out stolen, only makes the identification process and attribution to the Harvey Company even more complicated (154).

The controversy of handmade versus machine-made led two Indian silver experts, John Adair and Kenneth Chapman, to study the issue. They focused on the “physical character of worked silver,” which was at the heart of the heated controversy. Chapman invented a tool capable of detecting “irregularities in the thickness of a bracelet.” Thus he believed it possible to determine whether the bracelet had been hand-wrought or made from commercial sheet silver (207). But Adair, author of an in-depth study on southwestern Indian jewelry, maintained that all pieces of “well-finished jewelry looked similar” (207). Hence the process of deciding which curio bracelets are machine-made, which are handmade, and then, which are authentic Fred Harvey bracelets still remains an elusive goal.

-Susan Meyn

Batkin, Jonathan
2008 The Native American Curio Trade in New Mexico. Wheelright Museum of the American Indian: Santa Fe, NM.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Marin Show: Art of the Americas

After leaving a brisk 20 degree snowy Cincinnati - Wes and I have arrived here in San Rafael, CA - temperature 62F... the trees are blooming and last night I heard tree frogs yammering away -- nice. We set up our booth today for the art show. It is nice to see old buddies and hopefully there will be a good crowd come tomorrow and Sunday. I'll try to post some pictures when I take them!

-heading into the sunshine-


Tuesday, February 3, 2009

April 4th Auction

The consignment deadline is tomorrow. In the past week and a half, about 20 boxes rolled in with a huge variety of material - Navajo rugs of all shapes and sizes and pottery ranging from a large plate by Toni Roller to a ca 1870s, 16" diameter Zuni olla - and more are expected in.

Photography has started, and the photographs I have seen look great. It is now my job to stay one step ahead of the photographers, making sure everything is into the system and catalogued. Once this happens, the process of laying out the catalogue starts. It will be a busy month and has been a busy few weeks. But busy is good.