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Exceedingly rare 3000 year old ritual bird-shaped pestle on offer at Bonhams New York
Magnificent Baga Mask with a Superstructure Representing a Beautiful Mother, Guinea Coast, Guinea d'mba/yamban. Wood, brass, metal, height 47in (119.5cm). Est $400,000-600,000. Photo: Courtesy of Bonhams.

NEW YORK, NY.- Bonhams will offer a rare bird-shaped pestle pommel from the Central Highlands of Papua, New Guinea, made between circa 4000-1000 BC in the African, Oceanic & Pre-Columbian Art auction on November 14 (est. $15,000-20,000). Confirmed by petrographic study as one of the earliest works of Oceanic art ever to come to auction, pestles such as this one were highly desirable throughout agricultural areas of Papua, New Guinea, and were likely used in associated magic rituals. Natives incorporated these tools, believed to retain supernatural prehistoric powers, into local cults until the 1970s.

"It's simply extraordinary to offer such an important ritualistic work of art by early humans, sculpted thousands and thousands of years ago," marveled Fredric Backlar, Bonhams Consulting Specialist in African, Oceanic & Pre-Columbian Art. "Birds were and still are considered one of, if not the most, important symbolic images in the Pacific Islands. This could be one of the earliest images of a bird ever to come to auction."

A magnificent Baga mask from the Guinea Coast is the auction's top lot, representing a d'mba, or "idea" of a beautiful mother (est. $400,000-600,000). An impressive superstructure referencing the female form allows the mask to stand nearly four feet high. Similar examples can be found in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the African Museum of Art at the Smithsonian Institute, and the Yale University Art Gallery. The Musée Picasso in Paris also has a similar example that came directly from the collection of Picasso himself.

Also of interest is the Evan Maurer Headrest Collection, comprised of a variety of exceptional African headrests. Maurer, the current Director Emeritus of The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, carefully assembled some of the finest examples from all over the continent . Of particular note is a South African Zulu headrest (est. $10,000-15,000) and a rare, figural Twa headrest from Rwanda/Burundi (est. $8,000-12,000). One of just a few known examples of the only sculptural form they produce, the Twa are pygmies who live among the Kuba and Mongo peoples.

Additional highlights include a large and rare stone-carved wooden drum, called a pahu, from the Hawaiian Islands, which was likely used in a traditional temple during religious ceremonies (est. $12,000-18,000). Each pahu had a personal name, and its ownership signified social status. This particular drum comes from the collection of James Drummond Dole (1877–1958), also known as the "Pineapple King," an American industrialist who developed the pineapple industry in Hawaii.

A variety of exceptional Pre-Columbian works of art collected over 50 years ago will also be on offer, including a monumental Chinesco “emaciated” seated dog, measuring almost 20 inches high which likely served a dual purpose: to supply the deceased master with a companion on his voyage to the underworld, and to provide him with nourishment (est. $8,000-12,000).

Bonhams African, Oceanic & Pre-Columbian auction will take place on November 14 in New York. The auction will preview at Bonhams November 11-14.

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