Navajo rugs and paintings from museum’s collection drive strong bids at Nathan Auction
Review by WA Demers, Photos courtesy of Nathan Auction & Real Estate
MANCHESTER, Vermont. – Nathan Auction & Real Estate sold the collection of 55 Native American rugs and 25 works of art selected from the collections of Bruce Laumeister and Elizabeth Small in an online timed auction through Invaluable that closed June 3 . -Quality “Whirling Logs” Navajo rug in brown tones, circa 1910s, 124 by 72 inches, which sold to a California collector for $5,166. All of the rugs sold, while only seven of the paintings found takers. “The rugs were a nice collection,” Nathan said after the sale. “It seems the secondary market, however, is hostile to unknown Western artists.”
Laumeister and Small are the founders of the Bennington Center for the Arts, which recently changed hands. The Navajo rugs and paintings in the center – for this sale, Eric Nathan chose those with women as subjects – have been an important part of the permanent collection and on display in the museum’s galleries since its construction in the early 1990s. Whirling Log has its origins in Navajo sand paintings as a sacred symbol of healing. In the Navajo language, it translates to “that which spins.” Essentially a swastika pattern, which dates back thousands of years in human culture, in the Navajo culture, the swastika or Whirling Log represents well-being, luck and protection. It comes from the story of an outcast who decides to climb into a log and float down the river to a distant land where he could find peace and safety. Along the way, he has many misadventures, which eventually allow him to gain important ceremonial knowledge.
Another “Whirling Logs” Navajo pattern rug, this one circa the 1920s, sold for $4,428. Its dimensions were 113 by 54 inches. According to the Nizhoni Ranch Gallery website, a wealth of information on Navajo rugs, up to the late 1800s, when J. Lorenzo Hubbell (American, 1953-1930) and John Bradford Moore (Anerian, 1855- 1926) opened their trading posts in Arizona. and New Mexico, the Navajos depicted the swastika only in their religious ceremonies in the form of sand paintings. But in 1896, pushed by Hubbell and Moore, the symbol proliferated on Navajo rugs.
In 1940, in response to Hitler’s rule, the Navajo, Papago, Apache, and Hopi people signed a whirlwind proclamation. It read: “Because the above ornament, which has been a symbol of friendship between our ancestors for many centuries, has recently been desecrated by another nation of peoples, it is therefore resolved that from this date and forever our tribes renounce the use of the emblem commonly known today as the swastika…on our blankets, baskets, art objects, sand paintings and clothing.
Decorated with stripes of waves on a red background, the blanket of a Navajo woman was bid for $3,444. The 51 by 80 inch textile dates from the 1900s.
A field of yellow dotted with cotton balls included Navajo with birds and flowers that cost $3,075. The 1968 textile, 126½ by 76½ inches, was attributed to Ason Ti Yellowhair as the manufacturer.
Storm pattern rugs are among the most popular Navajo rug designs, popularized at the Crystal Trading Post at the turn of the last century. The pattern was one of many marketed by trading post owner Moore to Navajo rug buyers in the East. The design is recognizable by its large central rectangle, four smaller rectangles – one in each corner – which are connected to the large rectangle by zigzag lines. The precise origin of the pattern is unknown, but it was the weavers of Crystal who made rugs with this pattern the sought-after collectibles that they are today. A 68-by-54½-inch example from the Laumeister collection offered in this sale went for $2,583. Starting in 2001 and made by Ella Henderson, it featured both modern and traditional elements and won Blue Ribbon, Gallop, NM
Other mat highlights included a third stage leader blanket at $2,214 and an example with seven crosses on a red field that attracted $2,091.
“I was delighted that even the most contemporary rugs in the collection were well received,” said Nathan.
There were also fine art highlights in the sale, as noted above, on the distaff side. Most notable was “Winter Afternoon”, by Michael Malm (American, b.1972) depicting a pensive young woman in pioneer attire holding a bucket in a wooded scene. A contemporary artist from northern Utah, Malm uses the surrounding rural communities and settings as a backdrop for his figure paintings and as inspiration for his landscapes. The 1972 24-by-30-inch oil on canvas fetched $1,230.
The prices shown include the buyer’s commission as quoted by the auction house. Nathan is preparing two sales to come this summer, dates to come. One is an online and on-site event and the other will be an on-site real estate auction. For more information, www.nathanre.com or 802-362-3194.