For those who love history, there is often nothing as satisfying as owning an historical artifact. Whether it is fine art or a practical tool, we learn about history and our collective past through material culture. Interacting with an historical artifact can bring about excitement and awe, especially if the piece has a compelling story behind it.
Skinner regularly offers objects with interesting provenance at auction. In our American Indian & Ethnographic Art auction on September 6, 2014, one piece in particular stands out: a rare, historic glass arrowhead (Lot 189, Estimate $7,000 – $9,000) made by Ishi, the last surviving member of the Yahi tribe in California. The glass point represents a poignant, pivotal era in American history.
When Ishi walked out of the wilderness near Oroville, California in 1911, he was immediately taken by anthropologist T. T. Waterman to the University of California, Berkeley. Given the name “Ishi” by the anthropologists there, which means “man” in the Yahi language, he became a journalistic sensation and a living exhibit in the Museum of Anthropology in Parnassus. Thousands of visitors came to the museum to watch him make artifacts and demonstrate his previous way of life. Ishi stayed at the museum for five years, until he died of tuberculosis in 1916.
The glass point was made during Ishi’s life in the museum, most likely between 1911 and 1914, and retains traces of the original museum number. It is accompanied by a photograph of Ishi taken in 1911. While the glass point is certainly a beautiful object, it is made more compelling by the story behind it. This arrowhead will appeal to anyone who is interested in American history, and materially represents the complex relationship between the United States and its indigenous inhabitants.
This post was co-authored by Douglas Deihl, Director of American Indian & Ethnographic Art, and Emmaline Deihl, Digital Marketing Intern at Skinner, Inc.