New York art dealer Monroe Warshaw was in Paris in April in search of drawings on paper. He regularly visits London, or Paris, in search of art.
While there, he attended an auction and purchased two ceremonial artifacts of the Hopi Tribe. After doing so, he was immediately vilified in the press. He had no idea of the controversy he stumbled into.
“I spoke with my normal lack of tact,” he said during an August visit to Flagstaff, remembering the interviews by the press after the auction.
From far and wide, he was accused of having no morals, of exploiting the Hopi culture. He insists his intentions were honorable.
Regardless, Warshaw made good on a promise he made in August to the Hopi Tribe. On Monday, the two sacred objects he purchased for nearly $40,000 at the auction were repatriated without cost to the tribe.
“Just happy I did the right thing,” Warshaw said via email this week.
Leigh Kuwanwisiwma, director Hopi Cultural Preservation Office, confirmed the artifacts Warshaw purchased were returned this week.
“On behalf of the Hopi people, the kindness and understanding by Mr. Warshaw over the past several months is really well appreciated,” Kuwanwisiwma said.
He added that for many non-Hopi people it is hard to understand the importance of these ceremonial items.
“It’s something that I personally express my gratitude to Mr. Warshaw,” Kuwanwisiwma said.
Although he said he could not be specific about the fate of the items, Kuwanwisiwma said that they will be kept safe.
“The sacred objects will be returned to one of the Hopi villages, to the Kachina priests who have stewardship over these types of items,” he said.
After he left Paris, Warshaw, still smarting from the negative press, took a road trip out West with his trusty canine buddy, Pastrami. It was while on this trip a friend of his suggested that, while he was in the area, he should visit the Hopi Reservation.
He did, and he and Pastrami enjoyed wonderful adventures among the Hopi after a tense visit with tribal leaders.
“We’ve been communicating with Mr. Warshaw since the auction in Paris,” Kuwanwisiwma said.
Initially, when Warshaw purchased the items, his intent was to preserve them so they would not end up in the hands of a private collector and lost to the world. His aim was to donate them to a museum, where he knew they would be safely preserved and available to educate.
In an email attempting to describe his position, Warshaw stated, “The culture that created a work might not necessarily be the best one to preserve it.”
Warshaw made several visits to the Hopi reservation.
Kuwanwisiwma said during one of those visits, Warshaw was invited to attend a sacred ceremony.
“He became convinced, and that’s what happened,” he said.
NO OTHER PLACE
“What I saw changed my mind,” Warshaw said. “(The artifacts) are living to them, and they’re still using them in a living way.”
He made friends. He admired the artistry in the work by the artists. And, with Pastrami tagging along, Warshaw said he was surprised he shared a similar sense of humor with many of the Hopi he met.
“What they create is remarkable,” Warshaw said. “It’s not like any other place.”
The process to get the objects back to the Hopi has been a lengthy one, Warshaw said. They had to make the journey from France. There was a holdup with U.S. Customs. They had to get to Arizona and finally to the Hopi Reservation.
“They are beautiful objects to us — alive and inhabited to them,” Warshaw said, adding they were part of a ritual thousands of years old.
“You learn you don’t own them,” Warshaw said. “You can’t own them. They are a part of these people.”
Kuwanwisiwma said the tribe’s effort to repatriate sacred objects and artifacts will continue.
“I think the Paris situation, as far as the auction, of course, was a very, very challenging issue with the Hopi Tribe in general,” he said. “The efforts by the Hopi tribe dealt with a foreign jurisdiction.”
There was no legal precedent to prevent the auction from happening, he said. But he added that he believed the Hopi were successful in educating others about the issue.
“The Hopi Tribe’s efforts, including our office, will simply not end with the April auction,” he said.
Kuwanwisiwma said at this moment, there are auctions and sales happening all over the world of not just Hopi sacred objects, but other indigenous sacred objects.
“All I can say is I hope, at the very minimum, (they) get educated ... and hope it can stop,” he said.
His offer is for anyone who has sacred objects of the Hopi to reach out to the cultural preservation office and discuss with the Hopi tribe how they might come to an repatriation agreement.
As for a lesson he learned, Warshaw put up some of his customary humor: “Stick to what you know. Don’t get involved in something you know nothing or little about.”
Larry Hendricks can be reached at 556-2262 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
People interested in repatriating sacred objects of the Hopi can call Kuwanwisiwma at the Hopi Cultural Preservation office at (928) 380-6322. For more information about the preservation office, visit http://www8.nau.edu/hcpo-p/.