A Santee Sioux puzzle pipe
Lot 5402
A Santee Sioux puzzle pipe
US$ 20,000 - 30,000
£13,000 - 19,000

Lot Details
A Santee Sioux puzzle pipe A Santee Sioux puzzle pipe
A Santee Sioux puzzle pipe
The faceted wood stem pierced in ornate fashion, further decorated with emblematic motifs such as thunderbirds, a gunstock club, pipe and crossed-circle images in shallow relief, remains of red and green pigments, fastening a catlinite bowl with lead inlays.
length 40in

Footnotes

  • Provenance:
    Sold by Sotheby's New York on May 13, 2005, sale N08107 as lot #24. In the catalogue the provenance was listed as follows:
    "Acquired during the American Civil War by M.C. Philbrick of Kitterly, Maine who served in the Confederate Navy under Rear Admiral Farragut on the Mississippi River in 1862-1864."

    The catalogue also included excerpts from an expertise about the pipe written by Dr. Ted Brasser:

    "The decoration of this pipe stem consists of cut-outs and engravings. The cut-outs in this so-called "puzzle" stem were made so as to intrigue and confuse the beholder as to where the smoke channel is located. In this pipe stem the channel is along one edge, covered by a thin strip of wood glued in place. The cut-outs include a zig-zag motif, two circles connected by a groove crossing three diamonds, an X shape with circles at the four ends, and a heart-like motif. Pigment remains indicate that the edges of these cut-outs were painted red. There is no evidence that such cut-outs of puzzle stems had any symbolic significance. The engravings do have a symbolic quality. Along the upper surface of the stem are five thunderbirds, four of which were originally coloured green, while the one close to the mouth end was red. Along the bottom surface are three quartered circles, the outlines of a pipebowl and of a gunstock warclub. The quartered circles refer to the thunderbirds of the four wind directions, the pipebowl may refer to the Thunder's gift of the sacred pipe, and also the gunstock club type is associated with sky powers (in contrast to the Underworld association of the ballhead warclubs). The red thunderbird at the mouth piece may refer to the personal guardian spirit of the former native owner of this pipe. The pipebowl has a short frontal prow; grooves with lead inlay circle around bowl and shank. The value of this beautiful pipe is augmented by the rare survival of a reliable documentation. It was acquired during the American Civil War by William M.C. Philbrick of Kitterly, Maine, while serving under Rear Admiral David G. Farragut on the Mississippi River in 1862-1864. The documentation is reliable because it corroborates the following formal identification of the artifact. Ceremonial pipes with puzzle stems were popular in the Wisconsin-Minnesota region during the 19th century. They were frequently presented in formal meetings with Indians. Particularly the establishment of Fort Snelling and its military occupation since 1820 appears to have stimulated the manufacture of such elaborately decorated artifacts by the local Eastern Sioux population. Due to frequent intertribal contacts, however, artifacts in similar style were also produced by the regional Ojibwa and Menomini Indians. Of 13 pipes with puzzle stems illustrated in the literature five examples were attributed to the Sioux, four to the Ojibwa, and four were of unknown origin. All of them were clearly examples of one and the same regional art style. However, some of the cut-outs of this particular pipe stem were most popular among the Sioux. Circular cut-outs connected by a straight groove occur on pipe stems and warclubs of Sioux origin and the same may be true for the heart motif. Decidedly Sioux are the symbolic engravings referred to above, and also the use of red and green paint, and the short frontal prow of the catlinite pipe bowl point to an early Sioux origin. Probably the earliest evidence of puzzle stems consists of pictures made by the artists George Catlin and Seth Eastman, both of whom worked in the Fort Snelling area in the 1830s. Examination of surviving examples shows that the slightly convex cross section of the stem and engraved designs are typical for the earlier examples. Also the dark surface patina of the stem and the shape of the pipe bowl indicate an early date of origin. Although apparently acquired in the 1860s the pipe may well have been made in the 1840s. Cf. Hail (1980: 247), "This is one of a type called a 'puzzle stem' because the route along which it conducted the smoke was the secret of the artisan. The mystery added to the significance of the piece as a ritual object. Such intricate smoke channels predated the arrivals of the Europeans in the Eastern Plains."
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