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Rare Cook Islands pole-club highlights Oceanic art auction at Bonhams in San Francisco
Cuirass and Sword, Tabiteuea Atol, Gilbert Islands (Kiribati), Cuirass: height 23 3/4 in (60.5cm); Sword: 36in (91cm). Sold for $8,125; Est. $3,000-$5,000. Photo: Courtesy of Bonhams
SAN FRANCISCO, CA.- Bonhams inaugural auction solely devoted to Oceanic Art, February 11 in San Francisco, was led by the sale of a rare and important Rarotonga or Atiu pole-club, 'akatara,' of the Cook Islands, which achieved $146,500 - far exceeding its pre-sale estimate of $75,000-$100,000.

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. It has 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.

Additional highlights among the auction’s 150 lots of unique and fresh-to-the-market works from Polynesia, Melanesia, Micronesia, Indonesia and Australia, included a Maori greenstone amulet, hei tiki, from New Zealand, that sold for $21,250 against its pre-sale estimate of $6,000-$8,000. The amulet, measuring 3 3/8 in. tall, is finely carved, likely without the use of metal tools, with paua shell-inlay eyes.

Also a success was the $10,625 sale of a rare Telefomin shield from Papua New Guinea (pre-sale est. $8,000-$12,000). The shield was field collected, circa 1960, by Wayne Heathcote and was acquired by the present owner’s family in 1967. It is 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.

Of the auction, Fredric Backlar, Specialist of African, Oceanic & Pre-Columbian Art at Bonhams, said, “We are extremely pleased with the results of today’s inaugural auction of Oceanic art in San Francisco; the Gateway to the Pacific. There was spirited bidding from both domestic and international collectors, many of which were first-time bidders, illustrating the continued growing demand for good quality, unique and fresh-to-the-market works of art at all price levels.”

Also, he added, “We were pleased to see many new and experienced collectors and dealers in town for the plethora of Tribal Art-related events that took place both at the De Young Museum and the San Francisco Tribal & Textile Arts show. After the auction, we were pleasantly surprised to experience brisk post-sale transactions.”

Weapons and tools saw much success in the auction, with such sales as a Cuirass and Sword, Tabiteuea Atol, Gilbert Islands (Kiribati), Cuirass, that brought $8,125 against its pre-sale estimate of $3,000-$5,000; a large and rare Ritual Shark Hook, gaung'akao, of Rennell Island that brought $6,250 (pre-sale est. $4,000-$6,000); a large Bone Fish Hook, makau iwi kanaka, Hawaiian Islands that took in $5,250, (pre-sale est. $5,000-$7,000); and a large Food Pounder, Micronesia that took in $4,750 (pre-sale est. $5,000-$7,000).

More of the auction’s success came with the $8,500 sale of a Hawaiian Quilt, “Ka Makani Kipuupuu O Waimea” (Crackling Wind of Waimea), a fine hand appliqué construction in navy blue over white cotton, made in 1936 by Mildred Isabelle Gross (pre-sale est. $2,000-$3,000); a finely detailed Rare Dayak Ritual Calendar/Oracle Tablet from Borneo Island, carved on both sides with ritual symbols, that sold for $3,750 (pre-sale est. $2,500-$3,500); and a rare French Exhibition Poster, "EXPOSITION ETHNOGRAPHIQUE DES COLONIES FRANCAISES," of the Museum National D'Histoire Naturelle, Le 20 Mai 1931, that realized $3,750 (pre-sale est. $4,000-$6,000).





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