From the Toronto Globe and Mail, 4/10/2006
Tomorrow in New York, the gavel drops on historical native art from B.C. But this is no ordinary auction, SARAH MILROY writes
With a report from Val Ross
Tomorrow morning [Oct. 5] in New York, Sotheby's auction halls will be the stage for a historic struggle, the final chapter in one of the more fascinating and tortuous negotiations between a private collector and his courting museums.
The Dundas Collection of Northwest Coast American Indian Art is up for grabs, a cache that Sotheby's head of American Indian art, David Roche, describes as "the last important field collection of Northwest Coast art in private hands." The academics can't refute his claim.
The 80 objects were acquired by Rev. Robert J. Dundas, a Scottish chaplain, and they were obtained on the morning of Oct. 26, 1863, from one of the most famous missionaries on the coast: William Duncan. The setting was Old Metlakatla, near present-day Prince Rupert, high on the mainland coast of British Columbia. Adding immeasurably to the collection's appeal is the fact that it is supported by Dundas's 250,000-word-long diaries, which describe in detail the communities on the coast as he encountered them and the particulars of how this collection was amassed.
Thus, the Dundas collection is a kind of historic document, a time capsule that reveals an aboriginal culture at a precise moment in time, and Canadian museums -- from the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau to the Royal BC Museum in Victoria and Prince Rupert's Museum of Northern B.C. -- are understandably anxious to see some or all of it come home.