Art Patron Explains Why Native American Masks Belong with Tribes

Article excerpt

THE New York woman who made headlines recently when she paid $39,050 at auction for three native American ceremonial objects and vowed to return them to two tribes protesting the sale, says her action "came from the heart."

Elizabeth Sackler responded after Sotheby's refused to remove from its May 21 auction two ceremonial Hopi dance masks, or "Kachinas" and a painted hide mask thought to be Navajo. The auction house had received letters from each tribe requesting that the masks be removed from the sale but has maintained its legality under the Native American Graves and Repatriation Act of 1990.

"I would hope more people would become more sensitive to other cultures," Miss Sackler says. "These Indian cultures are not dead. It's important for the art world to distinguish between objects of art and sacred objects of living cultures. These masks are part of a spiritual, ceremonial life, now in 1991. These objects are different from rugs woven for trade or jewelry made for sale."

Miss Sackler, a daughter of the art collector and philanthropist Arthur M. Sackler, is president of the Arthur M. Sackler Foundation, which has been responsible for catalogues and exhibitions of the foundation's collection. …