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Variety of rare Oceanic art arrives on the auction block this February in San Francisco
Maori Greenstone Amulet, hei tiki, New Zealand, height 3 3/8in (8.5cm), finely carved, probably without the use of metal tools, with mother-of-pearl (Haliotis) shell-inlay eyes, faint remnants of carving on the face and belly indicative of much wear and handling, two suspension holes on the reverse, one worn through and the other inset with a later gold ring. Est. $6,000-8,000. Photo credit: Courtesy of Bonhams.
SAN FRANCISCO, CA.- Bonhams looks forward to presenting its inaugural auction solely devoted to Oceanic Art on February 11 in San Francisco, with 150 lots of original, diverse works from the regions of Polynesia, Melanesia, Micronesia, Indonesia and Australia, that will appeal to both seasoned and entry-level collectors. The auction is timed to occur alongside the 26th Annual San Francisco Tribal & Textile Arts Show, non-affiliated with Bonhams, February 10-12 at the Fort Mason Center.

Leading the Oceanic Art auction at Bonhams will be a rare and important Rarotonga or Atiu pole-club, 'akatara,' of the Cook Islands (pre-sale est. $75,000-100,000), with provenance from Arthur Sewall (1835-1900) of Bath, Maine; thence by descent. Seawall was candidate for Vice President of the United States with William Bryan in 1896, and was one of the earliest and most prominent shipbuilders of Bath. His son, Harold Marsh Sewall (1860-1924), was General Consul to Samoa under Cleveland and Harrison, and minister to Hawaii under McKinley, until the time of its annexation. Harold joined his father's business after completing his education. The Sewall family can be traced back to Henry Sewall (1624-1663), Secretary of Maryland.

The pole-club is carved from the heart (taiki) of the toa (ironwood) tree with an exquisitely carved broad, scalloped blade with a needle-form tip. Its collar has two "eye" motifs on each side and its butt features chevron design; it is beautifully finished with a rich, dark-brown patina.

Adding excitement to the auction is an extremely fine and rare stilt step, tapuva'e, of the Marquesas Islands (pre-sale est. $30,000-50,000). The stilt step, acquired by its consignor in 1969 in the United Kingdom, was created for use in stilt games that were a popular art from in the Marquesas Islands and in Polynesia. Activities varied from men balancing on a stilt and using another stilt to knock down an opponent's stilt; acrobatics on stilts and entertaining, singing or dancing on stilts, among others. This particular stilt step was exquisitely carved from one piece of wood, likely from the mi'o tree during the latter half of the 18th century or early 19th century, and depicts a traditional tiki figure with his hands to his stomach.

Also prominent in the auction will be a rare ceremonial food bowl, umete, of Tahiti/Austral Island, Society Islands (pre-sale est. $12,000-18,000), that may have been used as a bowl for making medicines. It is finely carved in deeply hollowed, oval form resting on four feet, one end coming to a point, the other rounded end with a raised and incised motif; it has a fine, varied honey-brown patina.

For those collectors drawn to the art of dance, there will be a rare ceremonial dance paddle, possibly Ra'ivavae or Tupua'i, of the Austral Islands (pre-sale est. $8,000-12,000). The unusually small paddle, measuring 27 7/8 in., features exceedingly fine "web" design; it has a fine, dark-brown patina. Due to its petit size, it was likely not intended for sea use. The row of figures along the flat, bladed handle (versus the typical rounded Austral paddle) are reminiscent of figures commonly seen on Austral Islands drums.

Of notable provenance in the field of Oceanic Art will be a rare Telefomin shield from Papua New Guinea (pre-sale est. $8,000-12,000). The shield was field collected, circa 1960, by Metropolitan Museum of Art Curator Emeritus of the department of the arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas Douglas Newton (1920-2001), and was acquired by the present owner’s family in 1967. It is most likely stone carved in high relief with motifs possibly representing a flying fox (sagaam); it is highlighted on the front with dark-brown, red-orange and white pigments.

Additional highlights will include a Maori greenstone amulet, hei tiki, from New Zealand (pre-sale est. $6,000-8,000), measuring 3 3/8 in. tall, that is finely carved, likely without the use of metal tools, with paua shell-inlay eyes, a large and rare Ritual Shark Hook, gaung'akao, of Rennell Island (pre-sale est. $4,000-6,000), and a Rare Dayak Ritual Calendar/Oracle Tablet from Borneo Island (pre-sale est. $2,500-3,500). The tablet measures 12 ¼ in. tall, is carved on both sides with ritual symbols and is pierced on one side with remnants of sennit cordage, highlighted on the top with an intricately carved head of a mythological aso figure. Its fine detail renders it a rare work.

Of note will be a female ancestral figure from Malekula Island, Vanuatu (pre-sale est. $2,000-3,000). According to its consignor, the 35 in. tall figure was collected in 1935 by Charles Lewis, then camera man and personal trainer of American actor, screenwriter, director and producer Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. (1883-1939), during a search for shooting locations of the (then future) movie "Tarzan." Lewis exchanged a rifle with a Malekula Island chief for the present work.

Also on offer will be two lots of rare Angu (Kukukuku) clubs from the Eastern Highlands of Papua New Guinea (each pre-sale est. $1,000-1,500), measuring 48 ¾ in. and 42 ¾ in., respectively. The clubs, designed to be used as weapons by the Angu people during village raids, were field collected prior to Australian control of New Guinea in 1912. They each feature a long wooden shaft with a circular, pierced, flat and smoothly ground stone disc adhered to one side.



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