On The Square

36th Annual March In Montana Auction Raises The Bar For Western Art

By Derek Koffi-ZIter

Apr 10,2023 | 23:00 EDT

The 36th annual March in Montana auction, held on March 17-18, drew a standing-room-only crowd at Charlie Russell’s Elk Lodge and saw many new records set for art and Western collectibles, with final sales exceeding $2.5 million. Coeur d’Alene Galleries conducted the auction in partnership with Coeur d’Alene Art Auction, drawing dealers and buyers from around the world, with online bidding platforms like Bidsquae.com facilitating the process. The two-day sale featured 766 lots with a sell-through rate of more than 98 percent, attracting nearly 1,000 registered bidders, half of whom were present at the event while the rest were located across the globe. While the excitement of live bidding appeals to some, others prefer the option of bidding directly from their computer or smartphone from Bidsquare.com.

Described as the finest Keyston Bros saddle ever made, a silver parade saddle, circa 1950, lived up to its billing and marched at the head at $78,000. The silver and leather masterwork had 13 Ute Chieftain sterling decorations displayed together with all matching accessories, including serape, tapaderos, bridle and bit, martingale, corona and crupper/hipdrop. The catalog noted that Keyston Bros. bought out Heiser Saddle Co in 1950 and many silver pieces were made from original Heiser dies, including the sterling Ute Chieftain head featured on this saddle.


March in Montana began in the late 1980s under the auspices of Bob Nelson of Manitou Galleries. Coeur D’Alene Galleries bought Nelson’s share and now partners with Coeur D’Alene Auctions to run the event.

Western art is the primary draw of this annual sale, and this year, there were many choice works up for auction. Contemporary sporting artist Brett James Smith’s (b 1958) oil on canvas, “Summer on the Creek,” sold for a record $48,000, over two and a half times higher than its high estimate. The painting measures 30 by 50 inches and features two anglers conferring by a mountain stream. An atmospheric scene of Native American horsemen amid a buffalo stampede, “Wrong Move,” by contemporary Montana artist Don Oelze (b 1965), sold for $42,000, more than twice its low estimate. Measuring 40 by 46 inches, the oil on canvas was signed lower right. Two works by Sydney Laurence (1865-1940), both homages to Alaska’s rugged vistas, were also notable in the sale. The scenic oil on canvas, “Some Old Sourdough’s Home, Anchorage, AK,” sold for $42,000, while “Iron Mountain,” a 16-by-20-inch oil on canvas, sold for $27,000.

Navajo rugs from the JB Moore Crystal Trading Post area performed well. This one earning $33,000 was described as “Montana-sized” floor rug, 13 feet 7 inches by 8 feet 8 inches, circa 1920, featuring the bright red field that hosts many of the old Crystal Trading Post medallions and motifs.

Navajo rugs were another highlight of the auction. A circa 1920 “Montana-sized” floor rug from the JB Moore Crystal Trading Post area measuring 13 feet 7 inches by 8 feet 8 inches sold for $33,000. Another Crystal Trading Post region example, circa 1930, measuring 18 feet 2 inches by 8 feet 4 inches and woven from Native handspun Churro cross sheep wool on a wool warp, sold for $20,400.

There were five sculptures by John L. Clarke (1881-1970) in the sale, the centerpiece “Mom and Her Favorite,” an 8-by-8-by-8½-inch wood carving came out of a private Bozeman, Mont., collection and brought $22,800.

Two notable bronze sculptures were Lorenzo Ghiglieri’s (1931-2020) “The Need For Buffalo,” which sold for $16,800, and “Herd Bull” by Bob Scriver (1914-1999), which sold for $15,600. Finally, an Assiniboine/Gros Ventre war shirt, circa 1885, was one of several Native American pieces that crossed the block, selling for an undisclosed amount.

Overall, March in Montana was a successful event, with many new records set for the auction, thanks to the hard work of everyone involved. Bidsquare looks forward to collaborating on next year's 37th annuel auction planned to take place March 14-16, 2024, in Great Falls for Western Art Week. 

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