Native Village
Youth and Education news

Volume 4  February 2012 
Aboriginal "mosquito mask" fetches $400,000 at French auction
Read more: http://www.canada.com/
Condensed by Native Village

It became the focus of an intense bidding war at a major auction of aboriginal art in France: a 150-year-old wooden "mosquito mask" from the Tlingit people of the Pacific Northwest. The Canadian historical treasure was expected to fetch about $40,000. When the bidding ended, it sold for nearly $400,000.

A European collector prevented a rival Canadian bidder, Don Ellis, from repatriating the rare object to this country.

Artifacts that sold generations ago for small amounts can sell for enormous sums today, Ellis said. Prices are sometimes driven by museums and collectors hoping to bring these long-lost treasures back to Canada.

The mask's great age, its protruding nose and the freshness of the pigments explain the high bid. It was was worn in ceremonies by a "clown character" to make his audience laugh. The vibrant colours were produced with graphite, manganese and red ochre. These were ground in stone mortars and mixed with salmon eggs chewed to a smooth paste. The result was a rich, textured paint.

Ellis has been involved in several successful efforts to repatriate aboriginal artifacts on the international auction circuit. Some have attracted multimillion-dollar bids.

In 2006, Ellis spearheaded the $5,500,000 purchase of a stunning set of Tsimshian artifacts collected by a Scottish missionary in the 1800s. Included were a shaman's mask that cost $2,000,000.

Ellis points out that many aboriginal objects were collected by Europeans in "fair trade" circumstances. The native artists or the owners of inherited objects paid reasonable prices at the time.

But were they all fair trades?

"Absolutely not," Ellis said.  He recalls a descendant of a mask-maker telling him how the family "bought ammunition and food and clothing" after the sale of one artwork to an early collector.

"I think it's a tempest in a teapot to speak about this (artifact) in the sense that (a native community) sold these things for little and now they're worth a lot," he said. "Over a century has gone by. Andy Warhol sold 'Yellow Marilyn' for $200 in 1964 and it sold for $26,000,000 two years ago.

Ellis said the global demand for historical aboriginal art bolsters interest in the work of modern-day First Nations artists.

John Ward, spokesman for the Taku River Tlingit First Nation, expressed surprise over the hefty price paid for the 19th-century mosquito mask.

Drumming"I don't know how these collectors value these things, or what's the driving force behind it," he said.

Early collectors"helped themselves" to Tlingit artifacts, Ward said, after Tlingit cultural practices were outlawed by the Canadian government.

The Tlingit of Taku River are still "in the process of reviving our way of life" and would not be inclined to sell their own historical objects despite the strong demand in the international auction market.

 Volume 1    Volume 2   Volume 3  Volume 4
Fe bruary 2012 Headlines Native Village Home Page

Native Village Gina Boltz
To receive email notices of Native Village updates, please send your email address to: NativeVillage500@aol.com
To contact us, email NativeVillage500@aol.com

 Backgrounds: www.robertkaufman.com

Thank you to ALL the wonderful individuals,  friends, organizations, groups, news services and websites who share or donate their research, work, time and talents to make Native Village possible
In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this material is distributed without profit or payment for non-profit research, archival, news, and educational purposes only.
NATIVE VILLAGE website was created for youth, educators, families, and friends who wish to celebrate the rich, diverse cultures of The Americas' First Peoples. We offer readers two monthly publications: NATIVE VILLAGE Youth and Education News and NATIVE VILLAGE Opportunities and Websites.  Each issue shares today's happenings in Indian country. NATIVE VILLAGE also houses website libraries and informational materials to enrich all lives on Turtle Island.
Unless otherwise noted, articles are written in full by the credited author at the credited source link. We are responsible for format changes and additional photos, art, and graphics which boost visual appeal and add dimension to the reading experience. Pictures and graphics not appearing with the original article are either credited on the page or by right-clicking the picture. Some may be free or by sources unknown.
Please contact us with any copyright corrections so we may properly credit the source.
 We are not responsible for changes to outside websites and weblinks. Please notify us if any problems arise.