USA: Decorating with tribal art is a passion for Lucy and John Buchanan - he's the director of San Francisco's Fine Arts Museums - who adore Middle Eastern rugs. For social power couple O.J. and Gary Shansby, it's the lure of American Indian objects. Fine primitive art, says vendor April Dammann of Stendahl Galleries in Los Angeles, which specializes in pre-Columbian artifacts, "goes with any decor."
For those taken with the finest examples of antique ceramics, sculpture, fabric, paintings and jewelry, the San Francisco Tribal & Textile Arts show and sale at Fort Mason is the place to be.
"Over the more than 20 years the show has been held here, it's continued to progress with a mix of national and international vendors until it's become the No. 1 tribal arts show in the U.S.," said Bob Wall, one of the chairmen, along with Richard Scheller, Susan McConnell and Margaret Rinkevich.
The Shansbys, who buy American Indian and pre-Columbian art for their Sonoma country home, are so committed to the look of the beaded moccasins, rugs, photographs and paintings, they nearly came to blows with their decorator over the idea of incorporating it into their home.
"Our designer said it wouldn't fit in," said O.J. Shansby. "And we said, 'We might have to find a new designer.' " She didn't mean it, of course. On the opening night of the show, they were tempted to add to their already impressive collection of Plains Indian pieces; Edward Curtis photographs; Apache, Pima and Yokut baskets; Nez Perce saddles; and beaded clothing.
"These things don't really work in our place in the city, which is more formal," said Gary Shansby, "but in Sonoma, they work perfectly with the surroundings."
The Shansbys left the show empty-handed this year, but Gail and Alec Merriam of Tiburon, avid collectors of ancient Maya ceramics, and members of the opening night's benefactors' circle, went home with a new treasure. After much browsing they found a delicate, classic late Maya vessel (A.D. 600-800) with earth-tone colors, an elegant cylindrical shape and rare paintings of female scribes, male dancers and hieroglyphs. They were more than pleased with their find.
"We always put something new on the dining room table first so we can really look at it for a while before we move it," Gail Merriam said.
"The Mayans probably drank cold chocolate liquid from it, and considered it a sacred drink," said the vendor, Marianne Huber, of Huber Primitive Art in Dixon, Ill., who has been selling at the San Francisco show for more than a decade.
Tribal art, said Huber, "is art that comes from the heart and the soul. It usually doesn't go that well with plasticky, mass-produced furnishings." On the other hand, she said she has some Ikea pieces in her Chicago apartment, "and pre-Columbian art really works well with simple lines that don't argue with the art."
At a show like this, which draws vendors from as far away as Belgium, Japan and Austria, customers expect to pay top dollar. Handmade Turkish rugs are expensive, said vendor Ron Franklin Hort from St. Louis Park, Minn., who was at the show. A late 19th century handmade Turkish prayer rug, for example, can run $3,500 to $20,000, he said.
Vendor John Molloy from New York, who specializes in Indian artifacts, sold a Cheyenne painted muslin from the 1860s for $60,000 at the show. A pre-Columbian vessel similar to the one the Merriams purchased could easily cost $20,000 and up, said Robert Morris, a vendor from Santa Fe, N.M.
Guests at the preview party on Feb. 11 were treated to live music by the Sy Grossman Jazz Band and gorgeous goodies from McCall & Associates, including the signature lamb chops, and ramekins of mac and cheese and coq au vin; there were smoked Scottish salmon canapes, sushi, meatballs with Kashmiri curry sauce, and a dessert for every palate, from cookies, to brandied cherries with Chantilly cream, to warm apple cobbler.
As for the Buchanans, they were businesslike for a while - the preview party benefited the de Young and its textile and art collections from Africa, Oceania and the Americas - then got down to the business of drooling over beautiful examples of Turkish suzani - finely embroidered wall hangings - and a muted Northwest Persian runner from 1875.
"We love earth tones in particular - they 'sit down' - they don't compete with whatever else is in the room," he said. "Actually, we've never met a rug we didn't like."