Pieces of the Past

Pieces of the Past

Collecting Historic Native American Art

Published online courtesy Western Art Collector, February 2014

Historic Native American art is as diverse as the tribes and artisans who created it. From intricate weaving designs, detailed pottery, and complex baskets to storage jars and everything in between, these works created over thousands of years developed into several distinctive styles. These culturally rich works are not only beautiful but are infused with history and tell a story.

Today, collectors are finding numerous options when it comes to buying and selling historic Native American art. Major art shows like the Marin Show: Art of the Americas offer space to presenting fine antique works, while important auction houses across the country like Bonhams, Cowan's Auctions, and Heritage Auctions dedicate yearly sales to the finest in historic American Indian art. When collections are re-discovered and offered it is an exciting chance for a new generation of collectors.

Available works that are complete with provenance provide a snapshot of the era in which they were made. Collecting historic Native American art can be a lifelong pursuit of education, preservation, and imagination - and even a little bit of adventure - to unravel the stories inherent in these works. Galleries in Tucson, Scottsdale, Santa Fe, and even Los Angeles are finding that collectors are eager to purchase work that is new to the market. And, like most art, quality will always sell. Diversity in subject matter and style adds to the desirability of these historic works, and modern versatility makes these pieces captivating to viewers.

Navajo Truck Pictorial Runner

Mark Sublette Medicine Man GalleryNavajo Truck Pictorial Runner, c. 1960, weaving, 72"x35".  Courtesy Mark Sublette Medicine Man Gallery, Tucson, AZ.

"One of the wonderful things about historic Native American art is that it blends nicely in very traditional homes, but certain pieces blend very well with contemporary and modern homes," says Dr. Mark Sublette, owner of Mark Sublette Medicine Man Gallery of Tucson, Arizona, and Santa Fe, New Mexico. "Whether it's a Black Maria pot or a stark double saddle blanket, these accentuate contemporary homes with the simplicity of the design. You can still have the most traditional of Native American objects in a more Southwest traditional home."

San Ildefonso Gunmetal Plate

Mark Sublette Medicine Man GallerySan Ildefonso Gunmetal Plate, c. 1960, plate, 5" by Maria Martinez (1887-1980).  Courtesy Mark Sublette Medicine Man Gallery, Tucson, AZ.

Mark Sublette Medicine Man Gallery has been a leader in the field of antique Indian art for nearly a quarter of a century and is known for specializing in Maria Martinez pottery. This coming August the gallery will celebrate its 16th annual Maria Martinez and Family show to be held in its Santa Fe gallery. The Martinez piece featured is a fine example of a gunmetal plate with a mirror-like finish—one of Maria's most desirable pieces. With 4,000 Native American items online, the gallery's website is the gold standard for price structure and information for those interested in acquiring or selling Indian art. Items include 1,000 pieces of old pawn jewelry, 600 vintage Navajo weavings, and nearly 1,000 pueblo pots and antique baskets.

Mark Sublette Medicine Man Gallery 6872 E. Sunrise Drive, Suite 150 Tucson, AZ 85750 (800) 422-9382 www.medicinemangallery.com