A Ladies Sewing Kit…

by forrest fenn

Many of the objects in my collection are significant in a very small depiction of world history. Most are more interesting than they are important. Nevertheless, it is necessary for me to remember that each piece represents who we once were in a time that used to be, and that I will never be anything more than its temporary custodian. 

 

 

Yucca flowerAmerica’s ancient western mountains were set aside for silence, except for a constant throaty wind that whispered through the cedar breaks and ponderosas. That was the setting when an Anasazi woman in Northern Arizona cut a 25” leaf of agave of yucca. It was a cactus that grew near her spacious rock-shelter home.

She constantly twisted the leaf as she beat it with a stick against a rock. The process of transforming it into an important part of her sewing kit probably took several hours. Ingenuity was a necessity and she must have hoped that each day she would think of some other kind of useful invention.

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The Indian woman mixed her leafy tool in a blob of mud and left only an inch of its needle nose exposed. It was protected from the aggressive jaws of hungry vermin.

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And that’s how I found it, resting on her metate for 1,200 years, waiting for me to come along and write its biography. Don’t you just love stories like that?

 

 

My Ancient Chinese Army…

by forrest fenn

Many of the objects in my collection are significant in a very small depiction of world history. Most are more interesting than they are important. Nevertheless, it is necessary for me to remember that each piece represents who we once were in a time that used to be, and that I will never be anything more than its temporary custodian. 

 

Ancient-Wisdom-Wei-Dynasty-880x293The Wei Dynasty 386 – 535 A.D., was the longest-lived and most powerful of the northern Chinese dynasties. Although it promoted Buddhism, it was a time of great political unrest. Everybody always seemed to be fighting anyone at the same time they were fighting each other.

In 535 the empress murdered the emperor and established her son on the throne. They were unable to soothe the rabid social and cultural turbulence so the people threw both of them into the Yellow River, essentially ending the Wei Dynasty.

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Here’s my little Wei army, it numbers ten soldiers in all. Some of them held weapons at one time. I used to have ten more but I traded them for a Kiowa dispatch bag and some other valuable considerations.

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These 12-inch terracotta soldiers were excavated in 1909, I was told, and the mud that was on them when they came out of the ground is still present today. To remove it would require disappearing the chalk-like surface colors, mostly black, red and white. Each figure is unique, although it requires a magnifying eye up close to detect the subtle differences. I believe the heads were molded separately and then transformed with clay to present slightly amended facial features.

They are not dissimilar to the famous warriors at Xian who are 600 years older, and life size. They number more than 8,000 strong, and were made to protect the first Chinese emperor, Qin Shi Huang, in his afterlife. I wonder if my little army was buried with me they could act in congruency with my wishes for…aw, probably not.

The Big Persian…

by forrest fenn

Many of the objects in my collection are significant in a very small depiction of world history. Most are more interesting than they are important. Nevertheless, it is necessary for me to remember that each piece represents who we once were in a time that used to be, and that I will never be anything more than its temporary custodian. 

 

MotorolaPagerDon Johnson asked on this blog how I acquired my big Persian rug so I’ll tell that story.

Early in my gallery career my secretary bought me a beeper. I hated those things but she was tired of trying to chase me down every time something at work scared her.

Soon after, I was in town drinking coffee with Ramona Scholder. It was important that I drink at least one cup a year so I could continue to remember why I didn’t like the stuff. I added a lot cream to help deaden the taste.

When my beeper buzzed I looked at the screen, “Forrest, call your office right this second.” Well, that was my first episode with that apparatus and I wasn’t overly pleased with the trend.
I was informed that one Mrs. Stranalee in Northern California was holding on the other line and was in a dither because she couldn’t be late to her hairdresser. She was liquidating her wealthy mother’s estate that included some antiques.

“Mrs. Stranalee said a few years ago you offered her mother a bunch of money for some paintings and wants to know if the offer still holds,” my secretary said.” “Tell her that if I made the offer I’ll honor it,” I countered, not remembering what the deal was.

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Approaching the fairway

Two days later I landed on the eighteenth fairway of her mother’s private golf course. My single-engine Rockwell Commander was turbo charged so I figured I could make it if I took off downhill into the prevailing wind. Landing wasn’t a problem.

When I climbed out of the plane at her back door, Anna (we had become first-name buddies on the phone) handed me a glass of iced tea and said, “Nice landing, but we have only 30 minutes because of the golfers.” I didn’t tell her I had my own reason for wanting to hurry.

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A lovely Fechin

So I bought four Fechin paintings, two Gaspards, and an Ed Borein watercolor. As I was packing the art in my baggage compartment, Anna asked, “What am I gonna to do with that big rug? (It was 14 by 26 feet and took 8 men to carry) I told her I’d buy it if she’d pay the freight to Santa Fe. She said “Okay.”

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An authentic big Persian

“But what am I gonna to do with that piano?” It was a beautiful antique Steinway baby grand with a finish that looked like five colors of black, and had crystal ball feet that were clawed. I told her I’d buy that too if she’d pay the freight to Santa Fe. She smiled, and thought a few seconds. “No, maybe I’ll give it to my church and make them come get it.”

We were burning sunlight and Anna kept looking at her watch. So I quickly wrote a check and headed for the back door. “Come back when you have more time and we’ll play some golf,” she said. I waved good-bye just as a Federal Aviation inspector buzzed at her gate. I think his arrival added a few revs to my propeller.

Those were good flying times when I could bend the rules a little and not worry too much. Couldn’t get by with that today, and that’s why I stopped flying.

And now, Don Johnson, you know how I acquired the 135 year-old Persian rug that’s on the floor in my office.

The Dragon Bracelet…

 

by forrest fenn

MANY OF THE OBJECTS IN MY COLLECTION ARE SIGNIFICANT IN A VERY SMALL DEPICTION OF WORLD HISTORY. MOST ARE MORE INTERESTING THAN THEY ARE IMPORTANT. NEVERTHELESS, IT IS NECESSARY FOR ME TO REMEMBER THAT EACH PIECE REPRESENTS WHO WE ONCE WERE IN A TIME THAT USED TO BE, AND THAT I WILL NEVER BE ANYTHING MORE THAN ITS TEMPORARY CUSTODIAN. 

 

Treasure-Chest-Forrest-FennWhen Don Johnson asked a question on this blog about a coat bracelet that adorns the treasure chest, I decided to write something here that might help quench his curiosity. It also gives me an opportunity to revisit my memory of Eric Sloane.
I first met Eric in 1975 at the Dutch Treat Club in New York as the guest of Armand Hammer and his brother Victor. I told that story with some relish in my book Seventeen Dollars a Square Inch, which is full of tales about the storied Eric Sloane.
Until he died in 1985, Eric and I enjoyed a relationship that surely is held in reserve for a special few. We lunched most days when he was in town, and I was in awe of him. He was twenty-five years my senior and just two years younger than my father.
Eric and I enjoyed an unprecedented custom of wanting to please each other. When I was in his home or studio and saw something I liked – he gave it to me. And when he was in my gallery our staff was instructed to gift him anything that tweaked his interest as he strolled our space. That’s how I got my cigar store Indian. Fortunately, our taste in each other’s personal possessions normally didn’t exceed about $20,000.
Eric consigned his work to us and our storage rooms were filled with his paintings, although during the last year of his life we sold one every other working day, on average.
But he was a dichotomy. Occasionally he’d walk into my office carrying a painting wet off of his easel. He’d say, “Forrest, I don’t much like this painting, it’s not very good, I’m thinking of throwing it out in the alley. What do you think?” That meant he wanted some walking-around money. So I’d say, “Oh no Eric, that’s the greatest painting I ever saw, let me buy it from you,” As he was busy acquiescing I’d pull a roll of bills from my drawer and start stacking them up. Eric would yell, “Forrest stop, that’s enough, please stop.” So of course I didn’t stop until the pile reached about 65% of what the painting was worth retail. With that deal done we’d go to the Pink and Eric would treat me to lunch with my money. We purchased sixty-eight painting from him in that manner over a nine year period, and in 1984 we gave Eric $346,980.
After a few months Eric’s pockets were full of $100 bills. He heard that because drug dealers had large hoards of American dollars our treasury was planning to recall all of its cash extant, and replace it with a different currency. That worried Eric and he decided to spend his cash money.
Coincidentally, we had a very nice canary diamond in our jewelry display. It was 43 carets. I remember the size because it was two carets smaller than the Hope Diamond that’s on display in the Smithsonian. Eric acquired our lovely canary for a Campbell Soup box full of money, and his wife’s very handsome gold dragon coat bracelet that was littered with rubies, diamonds, sapphires and emeralds. That was her addition to the trade and I was pleased with our mutual agreement. And that, Don Johnson, is how I acquired the famous bracelet.
And I might add that Eric’s wife also was pleased with the transaction because her husband was a very generous man.

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added by dal-
Forrest did not send along a photo of the dragon bracelet. If you want to see it I guess you will have to find the chest because it is in a zip lock inside. He told me he put it in there “because the bracelet has a stainless steel hinge that might be effected by moisture if it is not found for a few centuries”.

Gold is the Skin of the Gods…

by forrest fenn

Many of the objects in my collection are significant in a very small depiction of world history. Most are more interesting than they are important. Nevertheless, it is necessary for me to remember that each piece represents who we once were in a time that used to be, and that I will never be anything more than its temporary custodian. 

 

 

egyptpyramid7This 12 inch gilded wooden figure is Ibis, the sacred bird of Thoth, the god of wisdom. His hair is inlaid blue Faience, the first glass ever intentionally produced by man. He dates to 7th – 6th century BC, and his beak and scepter are of bronze. He’s not supposed to be carrying a scepter, but there it is. Hmmm. Sometimes it’s the aberration of an object that wets the wits of a collector.

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Thoth was one of the main deities in Egyptian mythology. He’s depicted here as a man with the head of an Ibis. Thoth maintained the universe, and moderated disputes between good and bad to make sure neither gained an advantage. He invented hieroglyph, the Egyptian system of writing.

Many years ago a trader friend named Consuela asked me to go to her room in the La Fonda hotel. She wanted to show me something in private and promised I would buy it. That was a new sales pitch for me and I said okay. After we enjoyed a cold Coors she unwrapped this beautiful Thoth figure and placed it on a table in front of me. I knew exactly what it was and instantly dreaded that she would ask more for it than I could afford to pay. I was enthralled, and reminded myself that a man in the desert dying of thirst might pay a million dollars for a glass of water.

When Consuela started playing Eddy Arnold’s “What’s He Doing in My World” on her wind-up, Victor-Victrola record player, I relaxed a little. It was a good omen because that’s a song Peggy and I used to like when we were in high school.

Consuela said the ancient Egyptians believed that gold was the skin of the gods and that Thoth was so strong that the sun couldn’t shine without his permission. “His power will keep you young,” she promised. I wondered if some of her talk was salesmanship but it had long been my belief that I was aging by mistake.

After two more beers and a call to my banker, I purchased this beautiful gilded figure from Consuela for a price no one thought was fair but me, and Consuela of course. Thank you Eddy Arnold, wherever you are.

PS, It appears that Consuela’s prophecy may not be working.

Wooden Maiden…

by forrest fenn

Many of the objects in my collection are significant in a very small depiction of world history. Most are more interesting than they are important. Nevertheless, it is necessary for me to remember that each piece represents who we once were in a time that used to be, and that I will never be anything more than its temporary custodian. 

 

 


Comfort comes from where you find it.

This 4 foot Indian woman was carved about 1830. Her original color tones and tints have gently faded through the years to form a pleasing meld. Her dress of green tobacco leaves identifies her for what she is, a cigar store Indian. The split down her extended bodice may serve to show the struggles of her culture. Before the red men got their own historians, stories of the quarrel always glorified the white man.

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I like this wooden lady because she touches me personally. When I look at her – silence responds – but her seeing eyes and angelic face speak in ways that are not misunderstood. Although she is good at keeping secrets, to me she’s the embodiment of an era I am wont to know.

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Surely this lady stood in silent repose beside a smoke shop door in St. Louis or some other frontier town as an announcement for the product being sold just inside. At least I want to think so.

Another reason for my feelings about this maiden – she was given to me by my dear friend Eric Sloane, and now he lives vicariously through her to me. Imagination can be a treasure also.

 

Anabella’s Hat…

by forrest fenn

Many of the objects in my collection are significant in a very small depiction of world history. Most are more interesting than they are important. Nevertheless, it is necessary for me to remember that each piece represents who we once were in a time that used to be, and that I will never be anything more than its temporary custodian. 

 

 

About forty-years ago, maybe more, an old Basque sheep herder came to me wanting to sell an awkward looking Alibates arrowhead. It was worth about five bucks so when he said he wanted fifteen, I bought it. I couldn’t guess how old the man was but his face looked like he’d slept on it for a long time.
“Where’d you find that point,” I asked.
“I donno, wherever I went, there I was,” or words similar.

He had a fun way so we sat down. He pulled a folded half-sheet of newspaper from his back pocket, tore off a small square and rolled a cigarette. The “tobacco”, looked like cedar bark. Then, to my amazement, he struck an iron strike-a-light against a piece of flint, which caused a spark that lit his smoke. And he did it with one hand. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I have a collection of fire starters and have used them at mountain man rendezvous, but would never have thought what he did was possible.

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Each time this strike-a-light struck the sharp edge of a flint it removed a red hot fliver of steel that fell upon tinder and started a fire.

Several cigarettes later the sheep herder rested his hat on the bench next to me. I picked it up. It was homemade from very thick, hand tanned hide, probably buffalo, and was maybe a hundred years old. He could see I liked it, and smiled to reveal an interesting tooth-lacking dental pattern.

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Anabella’s Hat

“It’ll break a fall,” he grinned, and pointed to the bullet hole near the hat’s forehead. “Got that one moonlit night when Anabella’s husband showed up unexpectedly. Unreasonable man, he was,” and the sheep man’s expression said that it was a proud failing. It didn’t take much for me to know that both the hat and the Basque had been molded in rude elements.

“How much you want for this old beat up hat,” I asked.
“No, No, with its history of saving my life a million dollars wouldn’t buy that thing.”
“I’ll give you three hundred bucks?”
“My God, sir, you sure bought a great hat.”

Kyetena’s Tobacco Canteen…

by forrest fenn

Many of the objects in my collection are significant in a very small depiction of world history. Most are more interesting than they are important. Nevertheless, it is necessary for me to remember that each piece represents who we once were in a time that used to be, and that I will never be anything more than its temporary custodian. 

 

 

geronimo

 

In the early 1880s, Geronimo was the most prominent leader among the Apaches. His revengeful raids into Mexico and along the southern borders of Arizona and New Mexico were taking a heavy toll in life and property. President Grover Cleveland finally put pressure on General Crook to “rein in the terror at whatever cost.”

Kyetena, whose demeanor contained all of the earmarks of bad company, was the influential son of Nina, chief of the Warm Springs Band of the Chiricahua Apaches. He was released from Alcatraz early so he could be enlisted as a scout for the 4th Cavalry. In 1886, he was instrumental in talking Geronimo into surrendering to General Crook. The scout, who was suffering from severe dehydration at the time, was offered half a tin cup of water. He declined, saying that he would accept nothing less than a full drink, a testimony to the durability of the desert Indians.

The iconic Geronimo was a prisoner of war for 27 years. He died at Ft. Sill, in 1909, of pneumonia after being thrown from his horse and spending a cold night supine on the ground. On his deathbed Geronimo, who had long since learned the judicious lessons of what not to believe, muttered, “I should never have surrendered. I should have fought until I was the last man alive.”

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Kyetena’s canteen from The Forrest Fenn Indian Collection

During the Indian Wars, small canteens were fabricated to hold enough tobacco for a short bivouac. This one, made of copper and heavily patinated, contains the original tobacco. It was probably crafted by an army trooper and given to Kyetena, perhaps by General Crook himself.

The writing on the rondelle says:

FORT BOWIE 4TH CAV
SGT
KYETENA
1886
U.S. ARMY scout