2004 February San Francisco Tribal & Textile Arts Show Fort Mason Center

Written by Michael Auliso and republished here with his permission.

This years show was filled with enthusiasm and optimism as collectors and dealers decisively made purchases.  The featured exhibit this time in the foyer were “tribal headdresses” which spanned all cultures and encompassed hair combs, hats, and complete headdresses.   It was curated by Diane Mott, Curator of Textiles at the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco.  Do to the show promoters prohibiting photography, I’m unable to share any images.  The exhibit was ambitious but was less impressive than the shield exhibit the previous year.

There were 94 exhibitors total of which about 30 were textile dealers and the remaining 64 comprised Pre-Columbian, African, Asian, Indonesian, Oceanic, American Indian and Tribal Jewelry dealers.

Exhibiting for the first time this year was Conru, African & Oceanic Art (Brussels) who only decided to do the show two weeks prior after one vendor was unable to attend (Our thoughts and prayers are with Ron Messick (Santa Fe NM) whose health we all hope improves).   Kevin sold a number of pieces some from his catalog including a Dan ceremonial spoon as well as a Micronesian Figure and a Canoe prow.   His featured pieces were a Kwele mask from an Austrian Collection and a Fang Torso.  He also had a whimsical Zulu neck rest in the form of a wagon which was also a snuff box with husband and wife attendant figures dated 1886.  Kirby Lewis, Lewis/Wara Gallery exhibited 15 years ago but it was excellent to see him back!  As always, Kirby had great quality pieces including a great selection of Massim Trobriand Material.   Of special note, he had a significant early Papuan Gulf Era River Gope Board (Ex. Julius Carlbach NY)  that was interestingly carved on “both sides”.  In addition, Kirby displayed and “sold” his supremely beautiful New Ireland Malagaan Owl Mask (Ex. Hilltrup Mission Collection)  which was featured in this issue of “Tribal” magazine.  We hope he’ll be back next year.

Were some dealers who had a disappointing show, but for the most part customer’s were buying… A couple dealers including Bruce Frank Primitive Art had sales over 6 figures.  That simply can’t happen without having stellar pieces of art–and Bruce surely did!  A major oceanic collector purchased three pieces the opening night including a rare Vanuatu Canoe Prow with an overall human figure transforming into a bird for $40,000, a Vanuatu pudding knife also in the shape of a human figure, as well as a 19th century Lower Sepik Murik Lakes Figure previously owned by famed collector John Friede in New York.   Bruce also told me he sold a 19th century Indonesian Leti Figure and a New Guinea Highlands Shoulder Shield with bold lime green pigment.  Congratulations Bruce– So, you’ll be picking up the bar tab next time right?

As usual Joel Cooner Gallery ( Dallas Tx ) had and artistic booth with an eclectic mix of African, Oceanic and Asian pieces conveniently located by the food court.  Among his impressive offerings were a 19th century Northwest Coast Seal Effigy Bowl, a Marquesas Island U’U’ Club, and a large Aboriginal Queensland Rain Forest Shield which his asking price was “brisk” $18,500.  Joel sold the shield the first day of the show!  

Farrow Fine Art Gallery ( San Rafael , CA ) had his customary quality selection of Tribal Weapons and Shields.  Erik reportedly had a very good show.  His sales included, an unusually large, rare example of a Kenyan painted hide shield, a fantastic 19th Dayak carved wood shield, A Fijian Totokia war club with magnificent native repairs along the shaft of sennet binding and wooden plugs, and group of  fine antique Indonesian Swords.  However his largest sale was that of a suit of armor from the Island of Nias which included body armor, shield, headdress, spear, sword and neck ornament (seen below)

Michael Hamson Oceanic Art (Palos Verdes Estates CA) Featured a stunning New Guinea Highlands Telefomin Shield which had a five figure price commensurate with is rarity and beauty.  Michael reported having a successful show selling a wide range of objects.  He told me however, that his brisk sales activity was focused on medium priced objects selling under the $4000 range.

William Jamieson Tribal Art had a predictable selection of quality headhunter material and trophy skulls which included a Shuar skull from Ecuador , a fine Asmat as well as an early Dayak trophy skull which was displayed in Tribal Arts Magazine.  Bill’s sale included a Marquesas Island U’U’ club that was partially incomplete, a New Caledonian mask, and a selection of 19th century Aboriginal Queensland shields.   

Mark A. Johnson Asian & Tribal Art  Overall, a good show me, with above average sales.  Mostly he sold items in the low-mid ranges, which is not un-typical for his sales at these Tribal Art shows.  His best sellers without any doubt were the Naga and Chin Hats.  He sold at least 10 Naga hats and 5 Chin ones (with the long feathers).  He also sold a great Dayak War Helmet (keeping in that hat theme), a Himalayan Mask,  two fine Naga wood panels, and some miscellaneous textiles and jewelry.  He also reported having some good after show sales including a sale of three large rare Dayak sun hats to a designer and some other Indonesian pieces to other clients he met at the show. 

Perhaps the most significant sale was made by Brant Mackely, Brant Mackley Gallery (Hummelstown, PA)  Brant had a superb bird form North West Coast carved wooden Pipe Bowl likely dating to the Early 19th Century.  During the opening, there was small crowd intensely examining it with pen flashlights.  The following day a sophisticated collector from Los Angeles purchased the pipe.  Brant’s asking price was $115,000.   Brant sells mostly Native American Material but also had a nice selection of Polynesian Objects as well.