Saturday, September 27, 2003

Book helps validate American Indian artisans


Antiques detective

Since the 1970s there have been many serious collectors of early 20th century American Indian art and crafts, such as the polished black Pueblo pottery of Maria and Julian Martinez, first made in 1919.

Prices continue to rise with the growing appreciation of contemporary American Indian art and crafts. While some is done in the traditional tribal way, many artists are creating new interpretations.

Author/collector Dawn Reno has put a face on many of these contemporary artisans in her new book, The Official Price Guide to Native American Art (House of Collectibles; $40).

"Many of today's Native American artists use new media and materials not usually associated with Indian artwork," she says. "And they want to reach beyond cultural barriers and be recognized simply as artists ... not just Native American artists."

What attracted Reno to the art were baskets and pottery. But there was little or no information about the artists. Baskets weren't signed. Nor was pottery, but pieces could be identified by tribal techniques and characteristics.

Reno sought these contemporary artists and cataloged them and their work. One of the artists listed, potter B.J. Fragua, combines traditional with contemporary techniques. Her pots can be recognized by their white backgrounds and painted recessed designs. They sell in galleries for $250 to more than $1,000.

Another popular category is textiles, blankets and rugs. When early examples of the fragile pieces come to auction, prices can be in the thousands of dollars.

Best known examples are those made by the Southwestern Navajos. Their rug and blanket weaving is so distinctive that historians have separated the styles into named periods.

Most of the American Indian artists continue to bring their works to fairs, where they sell for a fraction of gallery prices.

"If you can contact the artist personally, that is your best bet," Reno says. "This way you won't get a factory piece that is a reproduction of a known artist's work."

Q&A

I found four Barbie dolls in perfect condition but no clothes. The labels all say Mattel Inc., but are also marked Malaysia, Indonesia and China, dated 1966. Are they worth anything ?

They are part of the Barbie International series. With clothes, they could sell for $75-$100. Without clothes, around $45.

Contact Anne Gilbert by mail: c/o The Enquirer, 312 Elm St., Cincinnati 45202. Photos cannot be returned.



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