A Native American war shirt decorated with human hair fetched more than $30,000 when it came up for sale in Dallas this week.
The shirt was the star lot of Heritage Auctions’ Ethnographic, American Indian, Pre-Columbian & Tribal Art Signature Auction, which achieved a total of more than half a million dollars.
Dating from the 1890s, the shirt was tailored in typical Plains fashion by the Sioux tribe, and was decorated with beaded shoulder and sleeve strips, tie laces made from animal hide, and a geometric design which even included small woven American Stars and Stripes flags.
The edges of the shirt were fringed with long strands of human hair, in a tradition which originally began as a symbol of each individual warrior’s bravery and skill.
"In theory, at least, a lock of hair was added for each recognized war deed, such as counting coup on an enemy, capturing a horse, taking prisoners, getting wounds, saving the life of a friend, etc., but eventually the fringed shirt became simply the conventional regalia of the four grand councilors and finally a style of dress for anyone," said Delia Sullivan, Director of American Indian Art at Heritage.
Having survived in remarkable condition for more than a century, the war shirt was snapped up by a collector for $32,500.
It was one of numerous important Native American artefacts crossing the block in Dallas. Further highlights included A San Ildefonso Polychrome Jar circa 1890, which sold for $13,750; a late 19th century Plateau beaded hide cradleboard, which sold for $8,125; and a pair of Plateau beaded hide moccasins which realized $5,500.
There were also strong sales for modern works, such as a Santa Clara Blackware jar by Nancy Youngblood, circa 2003, which sold for $5,500, and a Hopi Buffware Jar by Al Qoyawayma, made circa 1992, which sold for $6,250.
"American Indian art is one of those categories that appeals to a wide array of collectors," said Sullivan.
"One of the great things about this auction was that, with the beaded hide items, the jars and bowls, rugs and baskets, collectors were able to find a variety of extraordinary American Indian pieces to add to their collections."