Field photos taken in New Guinea, Madang Province in 1967
What first attracted you to the tribal art business?
During WWII my father was stationed in what was then the
Western part of New Guinea, now called West Irian. He used to tell us
stories about White Beach number 3 where his unit was posted. I was
doing some research at the Australian National University for a
Professor called Eugene Kamenka on the Marxist Theory of the Law. Really
I was just a go-for, and used to wander over to the library to pick up
books for him and happened to pass the section on Tribal Art where I
ended up spending quite a lot of happy hours just browsing. This coupled
with the fact that while in graduate school in New York, I had worked
for Jerry Eisenberg, who was then a general object dealer on Madison
Avenue. Jerry also handled some Oceanic art. The thought occurred to
me that I could go to New Guinea myself, collect some objects and sell
them in New York. Also it would give me the opportunity to see where my
Dad had been stationed. My dad loaned me $1500 to put together a small
collection. On that trip, in 1967, I met Douglas Newton and Wayne
Heathcote. In those days, the late 60’s, it was completely safe for
someone to take off in a canoe with a few guides and travel up river
staying at the Missions. I also worked with local dealers like the ex-
Missionary Barry Hoare. When I returned to New York someone arranged for
me to show the collection to the then Director of Bloomingdale’s and
that is where I had my first exhibition of Tribal Art.
How did the early business experience evolve for you?
After the Bloomingdales show I made several trips back
to the Pacific and on one of these trips brokered the sale of Wayne Heathcote's collection to a family from Texas through Walter Randall.
That collection was in time purchased by John Friede and today forms the
basis of the collection at the De Young. I remember that the commission
of thirty thousand dollars which I received for doing this seemed like a
fortune. Most importantly, at the beginning of the 70’s, I decided to
branch out into African Art and Alain Schoffel gave me the name and
address of Lance Entwistle and Anthony Plowright, who were based in
How do you account for so few women involved in the tribal business, do
you see any balance on the horizon?
In the early days it reflected the fact that a lot of the
material was collected in the field by the dealers and the conditions
were often dangerous – or at least not very comfortable. Conditions
which would on the whole have appealed more to men than to women. Also
the societies with whom those dealers were interacting were male
dominated and they would certainly have found it easier to work with a
man than a woman. On the other hand there have always been women active
in this field like Hélène Leloup, Patricia Withofs, Christine Valluet,
Maureen Zarember etc.
There is also a whole macho thing which relates to
the concept of physical exploration of unknown lands particularly in
Africa and the Pacific. Many men would really like to go around with a
spear between their teeth and collecting is probably the closest they
will come to this experience.
There is still an innate bias against women in this
field. Do you remember when we first met and you came downstairs to the
gallery in Paris – the three of us were sitting there and chatting and
you said to Lance “ I wish she (i.e. me) would come and work for me” and
Lance had to explain to you that I was his business partner of thirty
eight years, not his assistant. At a certain point the bias is too
ingrained to try and work against and I do pass clients onto Lance, who
I think will work better with a man. I have had to accept that this
attitude is built into our society and get on with things. Lance has
always been very good about supporting me knowing that this blinkered
attitude remains. Two years ago I had an amazing year and sold the Nail
Fetish to the Met and the Afro Portuguese Ivory to the Quai Branly and
when people called to congratulate Lance he always gave me full credit,
but the New York Times said, “Lance Entwistle Gallery.” Bless them!
Would you say there is a difference in the way women approach the tribal
art business? If so, what challenges did you have to overcome to rise to
the top, in a field dominated generally by men?
For a partner I have a very charming six foot one male
with a great photographic memory, who is intensely scholarly and speaks
six languages. He is also very funny and a great story teller which I
cannot do to save my life. Our arguments are legendary but somehow we
have managed to stay on very good terms for thirty eight years and more
importantly I think we respect each other’s judgment of what the other
person is seeing even when we are communicating over thousands of miles.
On the other hand I definitely prefer more Classical material while he
can get very excited about things that are really encrusted with layers
of “something”. I am not sure what he would say I bring to the equation
but somehow it works.
Being a woman in this field, well there are myriad stories to support my
experience by every woman I know, but perhaps an interview with Sandra
Bullock sums it up best. When congratulated on the fact that her
recent movie was the highest grossing female star vehicle in the history
of motion pictures she responded “It’s nice, but it’s odd. It’s like,
you’re female and you’ve done this!"
Considerable energy must be required to obtain the finest objects, as
well as to manage and maintain two staffed galleries in London and
Paris. Has dividing your attention and time impacted your life?
you share some of your methods that allow you to so successfully cope
with this much business & personal responsibility?
Lance and I both love the material so admitting we are
workaholics doesn’t really answer the question but we do work very hard.
On the whole either because of temperament or particular skills I would
say that Lance is in the Paris gallery more than I am, a. because he is
absolutely fluent in French and I am not and b. I love travelling and
meeting new people and seeing new things. When we started the business
we would see marvellous pieces turning up in England all the time.
When we were first married we took my parents on a short holiday in
Scotland. My mother’s proviso was that we were not allowed to go into
any antique shops. On the last day we were going to stop for a Cream Tea
and Lance went off to park the car. He came back a few minutes later to
say that he had found a Benin figure – to make a long story short in the
end we sold it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art where the standing Lower Niger Warrior is on view. On another occasion I was sick and
Lance went to view Phillips and came back and announced that the
European Mediaeval Hunting horn which was coming up for sale was
actually an Afro Portuguese Oliphant. This turned out to be the Drummond
Castle Oliphant, published as a drawing in a Nineteenth Century book.
The hunting horn had been given by the King of Portugal to his daughter
Katherine of Braganza, on the occasion of her marriage. It is a magical
object and is today in the Australian National Gallery. Those wonderful
discoveries happen very rarely in England today so we have to look
further afield. Last year I would say that I was on the road six months
of the year.
Despite these odds you have been incredibly successful, any advice for
women considering entering the field, or those already in it?
Don’t look to the right or the left, just be confident,
know who you are, don’t take rubbish from anyone, be well prepared and
trust your own instincts.
What is your overall view of the tribal market in view of the current
world economy, and what direction do you see the business developing in
the next 5 years to 10 years?
The current world economic situation, in spite of the
myriad announcements coming from various countries that the recession is
over, continues to have an impact on the field of Primitive Art. The
upper Middle Class collectors, the Dr’s and Dentists, who used to be the
backbone of our business are not as active. The primary buyers now are
the big new collectors who are also active in other fields of Art. They
bring deeper purses to the market but they are also circling a smaller
number of objects at the top end of the market so there is a lot of
competition. At the moment they are not yet collectors with a deep
knowledge of the field so they are really seeking trophies whose value
they can easily access because they have bought the piece in open
competition at auction or the piece has an impeccable provenance and
publication history. In our experience as they become more experienced
they realize that they do not always end up with things which are the
best in the field by buying at auction no matter how high the numbers
are. Often when this "eureka moment" occurs they will turn to trusted
dealers to act for them and ensure that they really do acquire the best.
We have filled this role for George Ortiz, Morris Pinto, Bill Ziff and
many others; and, also, over the years with the more active museum
collections like Dallas, The Metropolitan Museum in NY, and the Nelson
Atkins in Kansas City. I hope that the collectors of medium priced
objects come back to the field because that is where the fun is; in
pitting ones aesthetic judgment and knowledge against other buyers in
Selling a great thing is more often a matter of price rather
than judgment; history has already assigned a place for the great object
so it becomes a matter of who will reach for it. With less well known
objects so many other factors enter into the experience it’s truly a
terrific high. I would also like to point out that we have always
believed that there are great things at all price levels as price is
mostly determined, after rarity, by fashion, and that can change so you
can bet against the market similarly to approaching stocks. What we are
always looking for is quality even if it costs a few hundred dollars.
In our business there are not many
enduring partnerships. What makes your relationship with Lance work so
We grew up and developed the business together over
thirty eight years. Most of the time we speak with each other (or today
communicate via email or SKYPE) every day. That kind of dialogue builds
a commonality of attitude towards the material and business practices.
Also no matter how intense the discussions we know that we will always
pick up the conversation as we share children and now a grandchild. We
are very lucky that on the whole we share a wonderful extended family:
Lance’s wife Marianne Holtermann and my husband Colin Hand, and our
children Redmond, Sarah, Maia and Olivia, and now our granddaughter,
Leni Broomberg. They are all very close to each other and to us. We also
have a tremendous staff: Francesca Martelli, who runs Paris, and Katherine
Rea, Christian Elwes, and Diane Wilson in London.
8. How much has the economic downturn affected
your business model? What changes in strategy have you made, or do you
plan to make?
We work harder! What we tell our clients is to buy the
best they can afford and not to make impulse purchases. Like real estate
where the mantra is always location, location, location, in art the
better objects always experience the greatest appreciation in value. We
are also planning to do some publications as we are both very bookish
people and are looking forward to the exercise although I am sure there
will be major and very loud discussions about what the front covers
should look like.
What advice would you give dealers and collectors considering the
economic condition that exist? Is there any "Smart" way to buy art
Look for areas which are not fashionable like Nigeria,
concentrate on seeing as much material as possible. Treat your dealer
like a stock broker and make him a friend. Most dealers will bend over
backwards to help a client who appreciates the service they receive
towards building a collection. Buy less and more carefully. Do your
research before leaping. Don’t be afraid to prune things in which you
have lost interest or which do not come up to the aesthetic level you
now know to be the level to aim for. All the old adages still apply –
condition, aesthetics, provenance, and price. And take the time to
enjoy the companionship of the wonderful people in this field it will
lead to some lifelong friendships.
Tribalmania extends its sincere gratitude and appreciation to Bobbie
Entwistle for offering
her insightful views.
Entwistle France SARL
L & R Entwistle and Co Ltd
5 rue des Beaux
Arts 144 New Bond Street
Paris London W1S 2TR
T +33 (0)1
5310 0202 T +44 (0)20 7499 6969
F +33 (0)1
4326 3030 D +44 (0)20 7290 3682
Conservation, Purchase Advice, Selling Advice and Sales