SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO, CA, MAY 6, 2019 – Turner Auctions + Appraisals is pleased to present Native American and Inuit Art from the Estate of Michael Denman on Sunday, June 2, 2019, at 10:30 am PDT. An eclectic and enthusiastic collector for over 50 years, Mr. Denman was the well-known and popular owner of a San Francisco restaurant that is a favorite among locals. Offering 225 lots, this sale features an intriguing selection of Native American pottery and baskets; Inuit stone sculpture and carvings; Navajo rugs; Cape Dorset, Native American, Southwest and Hawaiian artworks; tribal arts magazines and catalogs; and Arts & Crafts furniture. Pottery comes from a variety of Southwest tribes, including the Pueblo, Hopi, San Ildefonso, Pomo, Zia, Santa Clara, and Acoma. The sale also offers some African, Pre-Columbian, Eskimo and Latin American items. Rounding out the sale are items from several other collectors, including Old Pawn jewelry and more, such as necklaces, pendants, concho belts, bracelets, pins, rings, belt buckles, bolos, and watch bands.
Michael Denman was born in Portland, Oregon, in 1929. Like his brothers Peter and Denny, Michael graduated from the Lakeside School in Seattle. After attending the University of Washington and majoring in business, he joined the U.S. Air Force and became a B-47 pilot in the Strategic Air Command. While stationed in Arizona, he began an interest in Southwest and indigenous art that continued throughout his life. Following his time in the military, Mr. Denman moved to San Francisco and worked as a realtor for Hill & Co., a San Francisco real estate and property management company.
Reflecting his real estate acumen, entrepreneurial streak and sense of adventure, in 1984 he and a partner leased a 1950s bait shop and the boat repair yard next door. Ideally situated on the San Francisco waterfront, he envisioned the site's potential and possibilities, although at the time, the location was on the outskirts of town. Soon after, the bait shop became The Ramp, a popular locals' hangout for dining, drinking and dancing – considered to be a hidden gem by its diverse patrons. As Peter Denman says, it was begun as "a laid-back place where everyone of different stripes could come for a bite and a drink and relax" – a spirit that still continues. Today however, as San Francisco's population grew and its footprint expanded, The Ramp's location in the Dogpatch has become one of San Francisco's most desirable areas to live and work.
Michael Denman's discerning eye wasn't only for real estate. Beginning in the 1970s, he also became an avid collector of many things that piqued his interest. Several areas were of particular appeal, often broadened by family connections. Early on, he became a collector of Inuit works from Canada, specifically, from Cape Dorset and north of Hudson Bay. Mr. Denman became interested because Terry Ryan, the husband of his niece Leslie Boyd, launched Dorset Fine Arts in Toronto in 1978, as the wholesale marketing division of the West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative in Cape Dorset, Nunavut. Representing many acclaimed sculptors and drawing artists, Dorset Fine Arts was established to develop and serve the market for Inuit fine art produced by the artist members of the co-operative.
Likewise, his interest in the Southwest and Native America was inspired by the talents and enthusiasms of his great aunt, Leslie Van Ness Denman, a prominent San Franciscan with deep roots in the city: her grandfather (and Michael's great-great-grandfather) James Van Ness served as its seventh Mayor from 1855 to 1856. Mrs. Denman was very active in promoting the welfare and artistic talents of the Navajo and Hopi tribes in the Southwest, encouraging artists in their work and identifying those who were superior. She served on the Indian lore committee for the San Francisco International Exposition in the 1930s. She also wrote many pieces on Southwest arts for the Grabhorn Press in San Francisco, which was the leading fine printing establishment in the U.S. from the early 1920s to the mid-1960s.
Inspired by his time in Arizona and his family relationships, Michael Denman began collecting Native American and Northern Canadian works of art, sourcing items at auctions, galleries and dealers in the Southwestern U.S. and Canada. Propelled by curiosity and avid reading, he continued to augment both the quantity and quality of the collection as his interest, fortunes and sophistication grew. As his brother Peter says, "Michael had exceedingly good taste and a good eye, both for elegance and quality. Starting there, he began his pursuit."
Michael Denman passed away in late 2018. The collection comes to auction now because of logistics; Peter, the heir to the estate, and his wife Susan live in Hawaii, and their children are not able to house the collection. It is for these reasons that others can now enjoy the fine acquisitions of indigenous cultures amassed by Michael Denman over 50 years.
By Turner Auctions + Appraisals LLC
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