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Category Archives: Native American/Indian

Indian Emissary Bookends

Native American Chiefs and Leaders visited Washington D.C. and Europe in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries so it was not remarkable in those days to see an Indian in European-style clothing.  But an Indian in tailored jacket on a bookend is very unusual.  This pair of bookends shows an Indian in a jacket and cravat, the only such bookends we have ever seen, and we entitle the pair Indian Emissary.  The pair is six inches tall, electroformed bronze, unmarked, and attributed to Armor Bronze, circa 1915.The bookends are a unique addition to any collection and a great conversation piece as well.

Photo of Indian Bookends

Indian Emissary wears a European style jacket and cravat but his feather and hairstyle reflects his Native American Identity. 6” tall, electroformed bronze.

 

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Indian Demise Bookends

This pair of Indian bookends tells a story.  The near-naked, muscular warrior is in a pose of fierce resistance, but his club and his quiver of arrows are on the ground, useless.  His woman  is fleeing with their infant child.  We can imagine they are under attack from white men.

Photo of Indian Bookends

Indian Demise, Gray Metal, Height 6.25 inches, Weight 5.5 pounds per pair, Unmarked, Very detailed casting.

The subject matter is very familiar.  Indians and european settlers destroy each other in song and story,  but these are the most graphic bookends that illustrate the conflict.

 

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Seminole Indian Bookends

These are rare bookends depicting a seated Seminole Indian Woman of the 1920s, apparently sewing or stringing beads.  The sculptor was S. Plasikowski.  The casting company is not known.  Seminole Bookends are listed in both the 1934 & 1954 Catalogs of Copyright Entries for Works of Art  as the work of Serena Plasikowski Denslow.

Photo of Seminole Indian Bookends

Seminole Indian Bookends. 4.5 inches in height. Gray Metal.

Photo of Seminole Bookends Legend

Paper Legend on base of Seminole Bookends

The Seminole Indians in Florida are not the original prehistoric group of Indians from that region.  The Seminoles originated from a mix of local Indians, immigrant Creek Indians from Georgia and Alabama, and runaway black slaves, and received their name in the 1770s.  As early as 1880 the Seminoles obtained hand-operated sewing machines and used them to make their own clothing, utilizing a series of multi-colored strips of cloth to create both a ruffled blouse and a long ruffled skirt.

Photo of Postcard showing Seminole Indian Women

Postcard of Seminole Indian Women in Traditional Garb at Tropical Hobbyland, Miami, FL

This fashion of contrasting colors was begun prior to 1920, according to David M. Blackard in his book, PATCHWORK & PALMETTOS, Seminole-Miccosukee Folk Art Since 1820, Fort Lauderdale Historical Society, 1990.  The form evolved into the now familiar characteristic patchwork of blocks or bars of alternating colors and incorporating a sawtooth design through the 1920s and 30s.   Today we see patchwork with rickrack clothing on the handicrafted dolls sold in Florida as souvenirs.

Seminole Indian Souvenirs

Seminole Crafts. Sweetgrass basket with palmetto doll head. Palmetto Doll with ruffled cape and skirt

 

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Tall and Short Totem Pole Bookends

Photo of Tall and Short Totem Pole Bookends

Tall Totem Pole Bookends, made of iron, each bookend weighs 4 pounds. Small Totem Pole Bookends, made of bronze, each bookend weighs 0.5 pounds.

Totem poles erected by the Indians of the Northwest coast may reach 60 feet or even higher so it is appropriate for totem pole bookends to be tall.  This pair is 11.5 inches high, the tallest totem pole bookends we have seen.   Starting from the top, we see eagle, raven, and an anthropomorphic figure.  The bookends are unmarked, but attributed to Littco, circa 1920.

Some totem poles are short and so are some totem pole bookends.  The smallest bookends of this type that we have seen, 5.5 inches in height and with a shaft only 5/8 inches wide, are shown here as well.   Starting from the top, we see Raven, Eagle, Wolf and lowermost, Bear.  The bookends are marked Art Brass, but we do not know any foundry of this name, so the foundry remains unknown.  They date probably from about 1920, and were suitable for small books or periodicals of that era.

Photo of Totem Park, Wrangell, AK

Totem Poles in Totem Park, Wrangell, AK. 2003

 

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Northwest Coast Bookends

There are a number of bookends that show Northwest-Coast Indian totem figures or alternatively totem poles. Totems were animals or anthropomorphic beings that each Indian clan adopted for their own.  Each totem was endowed with mythical powers, and each totem could theoretically help its clan, but the clan treated them more like mascots or heraldic crests than Gods.  They were shown on house poles or implements and also on poles made from red cedar logs.

The most spectacular pair of totem-figure bookends were those produced by Marion Bronze which showed a polychrome bear sitting with tongue protruding, a recognizable pose for the bear totem.

Photo of Marion Bronze Bear Totem Bookends

Bear Totem bookends from Marion Bronze.  Electroformed bronze.  Height 8 inches.  Inscribed with the conjoined MB shopmark. Circa 1960.

Bears frequently appear in the Totem Poles of the Northwest Coast Tribes.  There is a Haida/Tshimshian   story which tells of an Indian woman who mated with a bear and produced half-bear half-human sons.  Bears and humans could transform into each other so this was no problem.  An argillite carving from the Northwest Coast Indians is shown here to give another view of legendary bears.

Photo of Bear Mother Argillite Carving

Bear mother legend.  The woman is shown upside down giving birth to a bear.  Two bears stand by.  Argillite. Height 6.5 inches.  Nineteenth century.

There are a number of bookends of Northwest Coast totem poles.  Here is a pair that shows an eagle sitting above a bear. The geometric aspects identify it as Art deco.  Circa 1930.  Inscribed Cygnus Inc., Edmonds, Washington.

 

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Electroformed Bronze Bookends

In the past, electroformed bronze bookends have been called bronze clad or weighted bronze, but electroformed bronze is a much better term because it specifically identifies these bookends by the technique which produced them.

Photo of Electroformed bronze Indian bookends

Electroformed bronze “Mounted Indian.” Height 9″. Attributed to Armor Bronze. Note the scar on the underside of the base.

Electroformed bookends are made in several steps:

First, a sculptor produces a  full-sized model of a bookend which is then replicated in plaster or similar material,  The plaster form is then coated with carbon or other suitable material so that it can function as a cathode in an electrolytic bath.  The coated form is then suspended in a bath containing tin and copper ions and an electric current is passed through the bath.  Copper mixed with tin (bronze) is deposited on the model in a uniform coating.  At this point the model has become bronze plated, this is the same procedure for silver plating, chrome plating, or any other metal-plating operation. .

Metal-plating conventionally produces a very thin coating on an object.  For example, most Jennings Brothers bookends are made of gray metal and given a thin electroplated bronze surface. The gray metal provides the structural strength for the bookend; the bronze gives the surface.

The bookends that should be called electroformed are not given a thin coating which is  simply a surface.  These bookends are given a thick layer of bronze and this layer provides structural strength for the bookends.  Thus, the bookends are proper bronze and not simply bronze plated.  Each electroformed bookend usually shows a scar on the bolttom where a hook was placed in order to suspend the plaster form bookend in a bath.

 

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Indian Scout Bookends

Photo of Weidlich Silver-plated Indian Bookends

Scouting Indian Silver-Plated

Here is an Indian, holding a bow and bowstring, shading his eyes and peering into the distance. He stands on a metal base which is painted to look like black marble.  The bookends are large, height 9 inches, width 7 inches, depth 3.5 inches.  One knee rests on a mound, and the shop mark of the Weidlich Brothers foundry, WB within the outline of a shield, is cast on backside of the mound.  These bookends are very handsome because the Indians and mounds are silver plated.   These were purchased in 2012 at the Del Mar Antiques Show and Sale. A bronze-plated version is also available.

Weidlich Brothers Mfg. Co. (1901-1950) was established in Bridgeport, Connecticut, where they produced high-quality silver and bronze items, including bookends that are generally well cast and bronze plated.  Sometimes collectors or dealers silver-plate their bookends, but because Weidlich Brothers was noted for silver items we can believe this is the original finish.

Photo of Weidlich Indian Scout with TeePee and Shield

Bronzed Scouting Indian with TeePee and Shield

Here is the same indian as the silver-plated one.  He kneels on the same-shaped mound and grasps a bow and bowstring, but there is a teepee and shrubbery behind him. These bookends are massive, height 8 inches, width 8 inches, depth 6 inches, weight 11pounds per pair and completely bronze-plated.  This pair and all the other similar pairs we have seen are unmarked, but, this pair is from Weidlich Brothers, judging from the marked silver-plated Indians.

Both of these pairs may also be viewed on Chuck DeCosta’s Antique Collectible BOOKENDS website.

 

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Aztec Fire-God Bookends

Meet Xiuhcoatl the fire-serpent diety of the ancient Aztec indians of Mexico.  Each bookend, including the base, is a replica of a stone sculpture about three feet high, held by the British Museum. Xiuhcoatl is interpreted as the embodiment of the dry season and was the weapon of the sun.  The royal diadem of the Aztec emperors apparently represented the tail of the the Fire Serpent.  Xiuhcoatl was associated via its tail sign with turquoise, grass and the solar year, all three associated with fire and solar heat.

Xiuhcoatl or Fire Serpent with the head and curving fangs of a snake, short legs, and a magnificent tail, combines realistic and mythical elements into one powerful figure.

Aztec Fire-God: Xiuhcoatl or Fire Serpent with the head and curving fangs of a snake, short legs, and a magnificent tail, combines realistic and mythical elements into one powerful figure.

Each bookend is 7 1/2″ high, electroformed bronze and unmarked except for the artist’s name, T. Thorpe or J. Thorpe.  We could find no listings for sculptors that would fit the name and time frame.  There are a couple of possible painters who could have drawn the piece, one is American journalist, artist, and humorist,  Thomas Bangs Thorpe (sometimes Thorp) who covered the Mexican War (1846 – 1848) and painted scenes of Mexican antiquities.  There are a John and a Thomas Thorpe, listed English painters, who also fit the time period.

Mexican antiquities excite our imagination and remind us of trips to Teotihuacan and Templo Mayor.  We were pleased to acquire these unusual bookends on eBay at the end of 2012.

 

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ANNOUNCEMENT!!! – BOOKENDS: Objects of Art and Fashion by Robert and Donna Seecof

Robert and Donna Seecof wrote the first book on bookends in 1995 (Bookend Revue, Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 1996). At that time we briefly addressed bookends as works of art. Since that time we have become more aware of bookends as a medium of art and fashion, and we have attempted to show these relationships in this new volume, BOOKENDS: Objects of Art and Fashion, available now from Schiffer Publishing, Ltd.

We owe special thanks to Charles DeCosta, who generously allowed us to present some of the bookends from his outstanding collection, which can be viewed at antiquebookendcollection.com.

Over 350 vivid color photos and engaging text reveal that bookends have been a medium of art from the turn of the twentieth century to today. The photos illustrate 350 pairs of bookends from principal art styles, and the research places them in historical context, creating an illustrated art history of the twentieth century.  Accompanying the photos are identification of the production date, the foundry, sculptor, art style, commentary, and values. The bookends presented have documented American art fashions for the past one hundred years. This novel guide also organizes bookends by art style and historical period, rather than subject matter, which gives the reader new insight into the evolution of bookends in a dynamic culture. Reader will come to regard bookends as works of art and will be knowledgeable about their rightful place in the art world.

Front Cover of BOOKENDS: Objects of Art and Fashion by Robert and Donna Seecof

Front Cover of BOOKENDS: Objects of Art and Fashion by Robert and Donna Seecof

BEBackCover

Back Cover of BOOKENDS: Objects of Art and Fashion illustrating some of the fashionable bookends of the 20th Century

 

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Grenfell Mission Inuit Bookends

Photo of Grenfell Bookends

Grenfell Mission Bookends

In 1892 medical missionary Wilfred Grenell sailed up and down the Labrador coast as an emissary of the United Kingdom’s National Mission to Deep Sea Fisherman investigating the medical needs and welfare of the local fisherman while delivering medical care from his base on the medical vessel Albert.  Grenfell returned to Labrador and Newfoundland in 1893 and established the Grenfell Mission providing care to the itinerant fishermen, their families and to the local native inhabitants (Inuits/Eskimos).

As the Mission(s) expanded through the region an industrial works program was established to encourage the production of crafts by the local population and to create a source of income.   The  Grenfell Missions native people developed a handicraft tradition and created hooked rugs, knitted goods and bookends for sale.  The bookends shown here are carved and painted wood.  Identical bookends were created as early as 1909.

Dr. Grenfell used photographs and lantern slides lectures to promote the work of the missions and to solicit donations.  In doing so he left a photographic record of the earliest days of the Grenfell Missions and the products they produced.  The Rooms, a combination of provincial archives, art gallery, and museum in St. John’s, NL Canada houses an excellent and digitized collection of these lantern slides that can be viewed on line.  A set of bookends can be viewed midway down the far left of the picture on THE IGA Lanternslide Show: IGA 12- 28 “Pictures and handcrafts”.  Just click on the foregoing link.

The Maritime History Archive, Memorial University, St. John’s, NL also houses photographs and lantern slides from the International Grenfell Association.  The photograph, “Unidentified Inuit Man” bears a strong resemblance to the faces painted on the Grenfell bookends.

Photo of Unidentified Inuit Man

“Unidentified Inuit Man” PF-323.038 – in the International Grenfell Association Lantern Slides Collection at the Maritime History Archive, Memorial University, St. John’s, NL. Used by permission.

Today the missions still function under various auspices as the International Grenfell Association.  The bookends and other goods are considered valuable folk art by collectors and sell for relatively high prices.

 

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