SANTA FE – The auction items have ranged from a $16,000 Navajo rug to 50-cent Christmas ornaments.
This year’s 39th Annual Wheelwright Museum auction on Aug. 21-22 will feature about 700 works of art, including textiles, jewelry, pottery, baskets and paintings in an event that lures from 300-400 collectors to Museum Hill. In 2013, the benefit netted about $95,000.
“It is our biggest single fundraiser and it goes for general operations for the museum,” said Lea Armstrong, assistant to the director and event organizer, along with auction co-chairs Jayne Nordstrum and Peggy Gautier.
Most of the donors are museum members or collectors, Armstrong said, as well as artists and Native American businesses who offer their own work.
But don’t count on a Native arts sweep.
“We try to keep a Southwest focus, but sometimes people drop off other things,” she said.
Past donors have sometimes contributed – of all things – Asian items to the sale.
Organizers will decline objects originally intended for ceremonial use, she added.
“If something has tortoise shell in it, we can’t sell it,” she continued. The shell of tortoises was banned internationally in the 1970s when tortoises became an endangered species.
This year’s selection features a 2007 beaded carousel by Zuni artist Alesia Zuctawki circled by prancing animals, including a panda, a turtle, an elephant, a duck and a horse.
Northern Arapaho dollmaker Donna Shakespeare-Cummings created a beaded hide doll dangling tiny braids of human hair.
Figures by noted Navajo folk artist Delbert Buck include a cottonwood carving of a locomotive crowned by a sheep and a Navajo cowboy straddling a biplane.
Other big names include a bracelet by famed jeweler Mike Bird-Romero (Ohkay Owingeh/Taos), pottery by Robert Tenorio (Kewa Pueblo), a glittering micaceous bowl by Lonnie Vigil (Nambé) and a buckle by Gail Bird and Yazzie Johnson (Laguna/Navajo).
Vintage pieces include a pair of beaded Plains child moccasins and a pot by San Ildefonso’s Santana and Adam (Maria Martinez’s son and daughter-in-law). The latter is priced at just $250 because of a chip.
“We like everything to be pristine, but it’s not always pristine,” Armstrong said.
There’s pottery from Acoma, Hopi and Jemez pueblos, including a geometric seed bowl by Rachel Concho.
A turquoise-dotted pot with incised buffalo in the Santa Clara Pueblo style was made by Sioux artist Norman Red Star.
A lidded bowl came from Santa Clara’s Grace Medicine Flower.
“The donors provide a value for us as part of their taxable deduction amount,” Armstrong said, adding, “A lot of times, donors haven’t kept good records.”
Those prices may be raised or slashed, depending on the market, she explained.
Volunteers are responsible for researching each item so they can tell the story that sells the piece.
“We try to get rid of everything,” she said with a sigh. “Some things don’t sell and they’re around for next year.”