Smoki Museum auction showcases American Indian rugs, art
PRESCOTT - For the past week, people from different walks of life and cultures have been quietly slipping in and out of Ogg's Hogan in Prescott delivering American Indian rugs, art and artifacts.
Some rugs are old and extremely rare, others are fresh off a loom, and all are for sale at the Smoki Museum's premiere Indian Art and Rug Auction July 23 and 24 at the museum in Prescott.
"We have some really, really special things," said Cindy Gresser, executive director of Smoki Museum. "We have an awesome basket collection, old rugs, photographs, pottery, and just lots of really cool things."
Although the auction is only about 11 years old, its reputation for having rare and top-quality items, sometimes at bargain prices, has spread throughout the Southwest. American Indians from northern reservations sell their items alongside collectors, dealers, interior designers, and townsfolk.
However, before the rugs and art make it to the auctioneer's stage, they pass under the scrutiny of native Prescottonian Jeff Ogg, 63, who appraises each piece and suggests a low- and high-end bid price to the owner.
"I try to keep up with what retail prices are going for and go to other auctions. I start at what the wholesale price would be and then figure the retail price," he said from his combination store and museum at 111 N. Cortez St., which he opened in 1998. "If you start too high, you might not get any buyers."
With a degree in anthropology, 25 years of buying "Indian arts and crafts" for the Fred Harvey Company out of Grand Canyon, and 10 years experience managing rug auctions for Harvey (in the old Moqui Lodge which has since been demolished), Ogg knows his rugs and art. In fact, he suggested the rug auction to the Smoki Museum's board of directors when he was a member.
"Like most museums, they were looking for ways to raise money," Ogg said. "I told them that I had 10 years of rug auctions at the Grand Canyon, and that it is a successful way to raise money."
Ogg is well-connected in the American Indian art and artifact world. His grandfather opened the first Ogg's Hogan in 1949 in Wickenburg. Months before each auction, he starts "recruiting" people to drum up interest.
He can spot an old rug from a new one, a fake from a real one, and is usually able to relate something of the history of the tribe, meaning of symbols in the weave, and sometimes who the weaver was.
He has a particular passion for vegetable-dyed rugs and can spot one from across a room.
"The old, hand-woven vegetable-dyed rugs are heavier than the new ones made with commercial dyes," he explained. "They are heavier because the lanolin from the plants adds weight. Also, the dyes are inconsistent. You can have lines or blotches or faded spots.
"The new rugs with commercial dyes are lighter in weight, and the colors are consistent everywhere. You can just tell. Not many weavers use vegetable dyes anymore."
During rug appraisals, Ogg looks for age, fineness of the weave, intricacy of the design, and wear and tear.
"I look them over and tell the owner what I think," he said.
After Ogg and the seller settle on the starting bid price, a small group of volunteers, working from an old poker table in a back room, measure rugs, write descriptions of items, attach numbered tags, and wrap each piece for shipment to the museum.
"We have the most fun with natives from the reservations," said Linda Young, who is volunteering help for her sixth auction. "You get to hear the whole story about the rug, about them making it, and all about their families."
Some of the treasures for auction include an 1800s Two Grey Hills blanket, Nampeyo pottery, an old Frog Woman pot, Mata Ortiz pottery, two Edward S. Curtis books, and an 1879 photograph of a Crow Indian treaty delegation complete with their names written on the back.
Some of the tribes offering items for auction include Navajo, Hopi, Zuni, Apache and Yavapai.
"A lot of the Navajo ladies show up at the auction dressed in native attire," Ogg said. "They want to see how it's going."
Audience members will see some older rugs, woven before World War II, with a Swastika symbol. But tribes and cultures have used the symbol for thousands of years as a symbol of peace and prosperity - long before Adolf Hitler and the Nazis adopted it and caused it to represent evil. Most weavers quit using the symbol around 1940, but Ogg said that some contemporary weavers are starting to revive the symbol.
Although the rug and art auction is the big money maker for the museum - anywhere between $17,000 to $35,000 Gresser estimates - for Ogg it's not about the money.
"It's all about the Smoki Museum and helping it," he said. "It's not about the money."
The art auction preview (no rugs) is from 1-4:30 p.m. Friday, July 23, with bidding starting at 5 p.m. The rug auction preview is from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday, July 24, with bidding starting at 1 p.m.
The auction is free and open to the public. Bidders register at the door and receive bid paddles. Food, including Indian fry bread, and refreshments are available.
For more information, visit the museum at 147 N. Arizona Ave., or call 445-1230.