Texan eBay seller artist George Blucker was offering a sacred Chilkat robe a metre and a half across once used by native Americans (Tlingit, Haida or Tsimshian) of Southeast Alaska. Similar robes have sold for upwards of $30,000 at auction.
Blucker purchased the robe at a flea market in Illinois approximately 25 years ago. “I saw the blanket lying on top of a VW bus and at first I thought it had to be a fake,” said Blucker, who holds a master’s of fine arts and has worked in art conservation. “But I knew it could not be a fake with that kind of weaving - who could fake that?” The flea market seller told Blucker he had bought it at an estate sale in the 1980s. The robe was acquired by a grandfather of the estate’s heirs. The grandfather had traveled to the Yukon gold rush in the late 1800s to seek his fortune and came home with the robe. The robe appears to be a funerary object because of the frayed edges at the top where it may have been attached to a plank and fixture that was placed above a gravesite. It was first thought to be a Raven design, but it might be a Hawk, Eagle or Thunderbird, according to experts. There is no record associating it with a clan or community.Tribal members alerted Sealaska Heritage Institute to the auction on November 16 and SHI decided to try and buy it, but was able to raise only the reserve amount of $14,500 through donors. Staff contacted the seller, imploring him to sell the robe to SHI at the reserve price and immediately end the auction, given the significance of the piece. After researching SHI and learning that the robe was sacred, even though bidding had already by this time reached a higher sum, the seller opted to sell at the reserve price.
“When I found out that it had religious significance and it had a spiritual presence, that’s when I thought I would put it where it should go,” said Blucker, who has since received messages from buyers who were peeved that the auction ended early and who were prepared to pay a high price. “This is unheard of,” [SHI President Rosita] Worl said. “It is remarkable that a seller would take a loss to do the right thing and repatriate a sacred object to the tribes. We are indebted to him for his noble act of kindness.”Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) will hold a public ceremony on Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2015 for the return of the sacred Chilkat robe.
'Sacred Chilkat Robe Returning Home' SIT News November 29th, 2015
Mike Dunham, 'Southeast Alaska cultural group buys Chilkat robe that showed up on eBay' Alaska Dispatch November 19, 2015
Hat tip Donna Yates