Tlingit Polychromed Wood Comb (est. $60/80,000). Photo: Sotheby's

NEW YORK, NY.- Sotheby’s annual sale of American Indian Art, including Property from the Collection of Frieda and Milton Rosenthal in New York will take place on May 20, 2009. The sale will feature several distinguished private collections, among them: The Estate of Herbert Wellington; Property from the Collection of Morton and Estelle Sosland, sold to benefit the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation; Property from the Evan Maurer-Naomi Margolis Collection; the Estate of Milton and Frieda Rosenthal; and Property from the Collection of Mrs. Novella and the Late Edwin C. Lineberry. Works from the sale will be on exhibition at Sotheby’s New York beginning May 16.

The Herbert G. Wellington Collection of American Indian Art is one of the most distinguished of its kind. Originating from the 1960s, the Collection grew over the span of three decades to include works of art from every major North American tribal tradition, many of which are considered true masterpieces. The Wellington Collection comprised the landmark 1982 book Pleasing the Spirits; A Catalogue of a Collection of American Indian Art, and it was the first private collection of American Indian art ever shown at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1983. The Wellington Collection has had a profound impact on the collecting and academic worlds of American Indian art.

A highlight of the Wellington Collection is an extraordinary Washoe Polychrome Basket woven by the renowned weaver Dat so la lee (est. $175/225,000). Dat so la lee, also known by the English name Louisa Keyser, was the first Washoe artisan to create baskets solely for retail sale. This was possible with the support of her patron, Abe Cohn, who hired her to produce baskets to be sold in his emporium. Without the burden of domestic responsibilities and the struggles of daily life, Dat so la lee was able to devote herself entirely to her craft for thirty years, from 1895 to 1925. Her weaving skill is unmatched – no other basket weaver so superbly integrated weave, shape and symbolization – and this sale represents the first appearance of her work at auction in almost twenty years.

Another featured lot from the Wellington Collection is an Early and Rare Eastern Woodlands Wood Pipe, possibly Iroquois, which was included in the 1982 exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art entitled “Symbol and Substance in American Indian Art” (est. $150/250,000). This rare, sculptural piece has become a symbol of the Wellington Collection since its exhibition in 1982. The pipe, shaped like a war club, would have been used for tobacco-smoking ritual, and may have been used by a war chief in preparation for battle. A Pair of Haida Wood Figures, also exhibited at The Metropolitan Museum, will also be included from the Wellington Collection (est. $40/60,000).

Also from the Wellington Collection, Sotheby’s will offer a brilliant copy of the History of the American Indian Tribes of North America by Thomas Mckenney and James Hall this June as part of its June 9, 2009, Books and Manuscripts sale. This copy, estimated $80/120,000, post-dates The Smithsonian fire of 1865 where unfortunately most of the original paintings were destroyed. Thomas Mckenney, the first director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and James Hall, an Illinois lawyer and journalist, saw their work as a means of preserving an accurate record of a rapidly disappearing culture.

The spring auction will also include important Northwest Coast works from the Collection of Morton and Estelle Sosland of Kansas City, sold to benefit the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation, which Morton Sosland helped to create in 1978. In just 30 years, the Community Foundation has partnered with an estimated 20,000 individuals to grant more than $1 billion to the community; has more than $1 billion in assets; and is recognized as a national leader in making sure every philanthropic investment returns the greatest emotional, civic and financial benefit possible.

Among the works to be offered from the Sosland Collection is a Tsimshian Polychromed Wood Crest Headdress (est. $175/225,000). While some clan hats are made of woven materials and display only certain features of an animal, the Sosland Headdress is carved from wood in the form of a whole bear poised on top of the wearer’s head. Based on specific carving and paint features such as a lack of two-dimensional design work and the blue pigment used, this work can be attributed to the Tsimshian people of the Pacific Northwest Coast and dated to the middle of the 19th Century.

A Large Kwakiutl Polychromed Wood Sun Mask will also be included (est. $150/250,000). The mask is carved in the form of a sun surrounding a face with a curved, birdlike beak. It is in the style of Charlie James, an esteemed turn-of-the-century carver who is perhaps best known today for his totem poles and houseposts. Two 1914 houseposts by James are installed in Vancouver’s Stanley Park and have, though repeated use and exposure through tourism marketing and advertising, become the quintessential image of Northwest Coast totem poles.

Frieda and Milton Rosenthal were accomplished collectors in many categories including African and Oceanic Art – which brought record prices at Sotheby’s in the fall of 2008 –and Japanese and Chinese Works of Art. Their collection of American Indian Art is broad and highlights include rare examples of artwork from the Northwest Coast of British Columbia and the Southwest United States, including a Tlingit Polychromed Wood Comb (est. $60/80,000). The masterful carving lavished on this piece reflects the care and imagination invested by Native artisans in all things, even the most ordinary of items, and their belief that beauty knew no bounds. Shaman's wore combs during curing ceremonies, as well as when they were not practicing, and decorated them with both spirit helpers and crest emblems. In this superb example, the comb prominently features a beaver. A Large Western Apache Coiled Polychrome Pictorial Olla will also be included from the same collection (est. $50/70,000). Apache women stopped production of large coiled ollas shortly after the turn of the century as smaller baskets became more popular and saleable.

Property from the Evan Maurer, the former director of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and the Art Institute of Chicago, and Naomi Margolis Collection contains superb parfleche containers and is distinguished by a Pair of Cheyenne Painted Hide Parfleche Envelopes (est. $100/150,000), which was exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in 1941. Cheyenne artistry is among the finest, where artistic expression is closely tied to religion, and there is no greater example of Cheyenne artistic ability than their exquisitely drawn parfleche containers.

Property from the Collection of Mrs. Novella and the late Edwin C. Lineberry includes important indigenous art from New Mexico collected by the Taos, New Mexico’s eminent patrons Edwin Lineberry and Duane Van Vechten throughout their forty year marriage. Two years after Duane’s death in 1977, Edwin married his second wife Novella who shared her husband’s passion for art; together Edwin and Novella opened the Van Vechten-Lineberry Museum in Taos in 1994, in honor of Lineberry’s first wife, Duane


A Tsimshian Polychromed Wood Crest Headdress (est. $175/225,000). Photo: Sotheby's.