Art Dealer Returns Hopi Sacred Items After Change Of Heart
July 30, 2013
Photo by Laurel Morales
The tribe says Katsina dolls can be sold. A doll is typically given to a young girl at a public ceremony as a blessing and part of her education.

An art dealer who bought two Hopi sacred items at a Paris auction last spring has decided to return them to the Northern Arizona tribe. The Hopi Tribe tried to stop the auction, arguing these items shouldn’t be seen much less sold.

Monroe Warshaw is a photographer and an art dealer from New York who happened to be in Paris last April. When he heard about the Hopi auction, he decided to photograph it. Warshaw said he felt compelled to buy two of the 70 headdresses for sale paying about €26,000, or $34,000, for them.

"I think that I acted and did the right thing," Warshaw said. "I bought these things to preserve them to give them to a museum or institution that would care for them without knowing anything about the Hopi and also about something called NAGPRA."

That’s the Native American Graves and Protection Repatriation Act, which protects items such as these in the United States.

After the auction Warshaw spoke to reporters, expressing his views. He said he felt vilified by the media and has received a lot of hate mail in response to his comments and purchases. With some trepidation, he recently decided to go to the Hopi reservation, planning to give one headdress to the tribe and the other to a museum. But after attending a Hopi home dance, Warshaw had a change of heart.

"Despite them being ceremonial or religious, they’re extraordinary things and when you realize, you don’t own these," Warshaw said. "But if you would’ve seen what I saw you almost couldn’t. You couldn’t own it because it’s like you’ve ripped the heart of an animal out. These are living things and they should be there."

The Hopi call them friends or spirits. At least two other friends from the auction have been returned to the tribe. But Warshaw said another Paris auction of similar items is planned for the fall.