Tsa Toke’s Peyote Ritual Paintings, Designed & Printed by the Grabhorns

“Typography, content, and format are superb and the reproductions are magnificent”

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614. TSA TOKE, Monroe. The Peyote Ritual: Visions and Descriptions of Monroe Tsa Toke. San Francisco: Grabhorn Press, [1957]. [i-vi] vii-xvii, [1-2] 3-66, [3] pp., title in red and black, 14 full-page vividly colored text illustrations of Tsa Toke’s visionary ceremonial art work. Folio (39 x 26.4 cm), original natural linen over terracotta and sand patterned boards, title on spine in terracotta. Slight browning to endpapers, usual mild offsetting from color illustrations to adjacent pages, otherwise very fine in original plain dust wrapper with a few short splits (no losses).

     First edition, limited edition (325 copies) of a fine press book of great beauty with special interest for students of ethnobotany and Native American religion. Grabhorn 589. Howell 52:194 (Horowitz): “A striking study of the Peyote Cult, the ‘most enduring and influential’ of the religions produced by the interaction of the Caucasian and the American Indian, as interpreted through the life and paintings of Monroe Tsa Toke, a Kiowa of exceptional talent and perception. His paintings, reproduced here in full color, are accompanied by Toke’s own explanations and comments. With a foreword by A.L. Kroeber, the distinguished anthropologist, who declared that ‘the combination of a deep belief with its fervent aesthetic expression make the record of Tsa Toke’s life work an unusual and important one.’” Magee, Grabhorn 444: “Of special interest to students of Indians of the Southwest.”  White, Peyotism and the Native American Church 370.

     Monroe Tsa Toke (1904-1937), also known as Tsa To Kee (Hunting Horse), was one of the six Native American artists known as the “Kiowa School,” who initiated the modern phase of the Native American Art Movement. In the late 1870s, Kiowa warriors incarcerated at Fort Marion in St. Augustine, Florida, developed their ledger art at the Carlisle Indian School. Kiowa ledger art combined their ancient pictographic tradition and Western art. Upon their return to the reservation, that Kiowa artistic flowering withered, but eventually blossomed again through the work of the Tsa Toke and the “Kiowa School.” The group was trained at the School of Art at the University of Oklahoma. Ironically, Kiowa art did not receive recognition and acclaim until published in Europe (see our Auction 21, Item 238).

     Like its ledger art predecessors, the art work in this volume represents a balancing act by a Native American. Leslie Van Ness Denman states in the introduction: “Peyote gave them faith in a new power and a new road that they might follow from the path that was still in their hearts and minds to a feared and little understood future. The meeting of compelling forces, conscious and unconscious, of racial memories, the loss of tribal security and religious beliefs, added to the drive of the creative urge to make live in form and color the spirit of the Indian.” Monroe Tsa Toke’s paintings in this work are generally considered the best illustrations of the peyote ritual and visions.

     David F. Aberle, review in American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. VI, No. 5, October 1958, pp. 953-954:

The paintings and Tsa Toke’s commentary are made available by Leslie Van Ness Denman, who received the paintings from Tsa Toke, wrote down his comments on some, and received others in letters from the painter. There is a short comment on the cult by Alfred L. Kroeber, an Introduction and a description of the Gallup Intertribal Indian Ceremonial and of the Kiowa group there by Mrs. Denman, and a short life of Tsa Toke by Susan C. Peters, First Field Matron of the Kiowa Agency. The typography, content, and format are superb and the reproductions are magnificent....

It is the combination of the paintings and the pictures which makes the book unique. Three of the plates are straightforward representations of figures in rituals, but the remainder are far more stylized. It would be a mistake to regard them as merely representations of peyote experiences; rather they are the artist’s response to, and reworking of those experiences, in such a way as to illuminate in a most unusual fashion both the peyote experience and the meaning of the cult to its members. Birds, ritual equipment, and stylized worshippers are utilized in these unusual pictures, accompanied by the artist’s discussions of the relationship between peyote experience, symbol, and the significance of the painting.... The Peyote Ritual helps us to understand peyote symbolism and ritual more clearly, to comprehend the emotion invested in peyote equipment by cult members, and to see through the eyes of a gifted and imaginative artist. Anthropologists will be grateful to Tsa Toke and to Mrs. Denman for this work.


Sold. Hammer: $325.00; Price Realized: $398.13.

Auction 23 Abstracts

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