Q & A with Value My Stuff's Native American Art specialist

ValueMyStuff sat down with our Native American Art specialist, Joan Whatton, for a Q&A. Learn more about why Joan continues to love Native American Art and get insight into a specialist's valuation.

Native American Art

How did you get involved with Native American art and why do you enjoy this category?
I taught the culture of Native Americans for many years to children;  I then became a collector and traveler around the United States furthering my knowledge in all aspects of their culture.  I am an historical enthusiast.  My degree is in elementary education.  I attended the Ashford Institute of Antiques and have certifications in appraisal studies (valuation sciences), economics and ethics.  

What is the most interesting piece you have come across? Is there anything you would love to come across your desk?
I recently came across a knife, made in England, enclosed in a sheath made by the Athabascan Tribe from Alaska dated late 19th century.  I would love to see an early Chief's blanket from the Plains Tribe from the mid 19th century and a Sioux Warrior's shirt from the 19th century.

Native American were truly the 'Founding Fathers' of North America.

What is Native American art?  Does it have to be old to be valuable? 
Native American Art encompasses the visual artistic traditions of the indigenous peoples of the Americas from ancient times to the present.  These include works from South America, Mesoamerica, and North America who have great cultural overlaps with Native Alaskans.  It does not have to be old to be valuable;  there is 20th and 21st century Santa Clara Blackware pottery valued in the tens of thousands of dollars.

Which market area and what types of Native art are the most sought after?  
First of all, the market is where we exist.  From the point of view of buyers, the auction market is the most well-defined arena for purchasing prestigious and documented Native American Art.  The auction market is much more transactional and negotiable to the buyer.  Late 19th and very early 20th century rugs, blankets and pottery bought from trading posts in North America are the most sought after.  Trading posts were and still are the Native American's economic survival.  This relates only to some tribes, especially in the southwestern part of the United States.

Is it worth investing in Modern & Contemporary Native American art?
Art is the greatest asset Indian people have in their communities, yet it is the most underdeveloped.  More Native Americans are studying cultural anthropology to represent their culture in museums.  Native American anthropologists seek out communities in the 21st century and commission weavings, pottery and basketry plus paintings to bring to museums and auction venues.  Once the public is aware of the Native American culture, their interest is sparked in modern and antique Native American art.

What do you think will happen in the market over the next few years? 
I believe that mid to late 19th and early 20th century Native American artifacts will be sought after.  However, any field of collecting can be compared to the Stock Market;  if the Stock Market rises and falls, so does the antiques and collectibles market.  The Northeast Indians such as the Sioux, Iroquois and the Mohawks are the tribes to pay special attention (all crafts).  Most of their artifacts are in museums and in the hands of private collectors, if the museums decide to sell (deaccess) to auction houses, and private collectors want to present their items to auction, it indeed will be a collector's dream.
Are there different types of collectors if so who are they and what is their motivation?
There is the collector who uses Native American art as home décor;  there is the collector looking for that "great find" (auctions, antique, retail, flea markets and garage sales).  There is also the collector who buys and sells for the sake of his/her business.  The most important premise in searching for a collectible or antique is to buy what you like for the average collector whether old or new.  

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