In a surprising conclusion to a controversy over the auction of three American Indian tribal masks, the woman who bought the masks said she plans to give them back to the Hopi and Navajo tribes.
The masks sold for $39,050 at auction Tuesday despite protests from the Hopis and Navajos that their sale would be an assault on American Indian religions.Elizabeth Sackler said she bought the masks for the sole purpose of returning them to the Indians.
"It is clearly the right thing to do," Sackler told The New York Times. "Period examples of Native American ritual objects should not be for trade, purchase or collection."
Sackler, whose late father, Arthur M. Sackler, was a prominent art collector, said she had never bid at an auction before. "The whole point of coming here was to purchase these ritual objects and return them to the Hopi and Navajo nations to whom they apparently belong."
The most expensive mask sold for $24,200; it had been valued at $12,000 to $18,000, said Matthew Weigman, a Sotheby's spokesman.
Weigman said that last week Sotheby's received two letters, one from the Hopis and another from the Navajos, asking that the auction house refrain from selling the masks for religious and cultural reasons.
"Neither letter makes a claim of ownership," he said. "We responded that we would contact our (seller) and then forward the requests to him. We did that, and he decided to go ahead with the sale anyway."
The Hopi dance mask that sold for $24,200 was worn by Ahola, the Chief Kachina, or dancer representing an ancestral spirit.
The second Hopi mask, made out of cloth, was worn by Koyemsi, the Mud Head Clown Kachina. It sold for $1,650, below its low estimate of $2,000, Weigman said. A painted hide mask, described by Sotheby's as "probably Navajo," sold for $13,200; it was valued at $8,000 to $12,000, he said.