Latin American


Artist: Unknown
Culture/People: Mexico
Place: Mexico
Media: Seed beads, split stick, and possibly willow
Dims: 2.75 x 2.25 in. (7 x 5.7 cm).
Date: mid 19th C.
RTC No: LA0004
Gift of Ralph T. Coe, 2011


Some of the pieces in the Coe collection are more ambiguous than others. This small beaded case stands out as one of the works that hold more questions than answers. The handwork of this case is stunning, from the tightly woven interior basketry to the intricate design and beadwork. Sometimes all that we have to work from when a piece’s maker or even function is unknown is the story of its provenance. Ted Coe purchased this particular work from Jimmy Economos, a well-known Santa Fe art dealer, with whom he maintained a longstanding relationship as an enthusiastic client. The path of the piece before it came into Ted’s hands is much more interesting, however.

In our files, we have the documentation that came from the original family who owned this case. There is a small handwritten note that explains that it was purchase by “Granny” (M.L. Hittle) in Mexico City around 1900. Accompanying this is a letter from Rene d’Harnoncourt at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. D’Harnoncourt, if you are not familiar with his career, was highly influential in the mid-twentieth century promotion and advancement of Native North American and Mexican arts through a number of important exhibitions, including the 1941 Indian Art of the United States. The daughter of M.L. Hittle, a Dr. Erla Rodakiewicz, took the piece to be assessed by d’Harnoncourt, who was known as an expert in Mexican art. Below is his letter back to Dr. Erla Rodakiewicz—who herself was a respected philologist, and social work held degrees from Cornell University, the University of Leipzig, and the University of Heidelberg (quite a journal for a woman who was born in 1873 in Indiana). Her papers on various 15th century Latin illuminated, and humanistic manuscripts are held at Columbia University.

D’Harnoncourt suggests that the case was likely made in a Mexican convent in the mid-1800s. He was incredibly impressed by the exceptional beadwork. He noted that because of the seed pearls used as details in the eyes of the birds and a heart on the lid, it was likely made for the use of “someone of importance.” He also mentions his confusion over the presence of a Star of David on the base of the case, particularly as it is paired with the heart and pelican, which are both symbols from Catholic liturgy. The Star of David remains one of the many mysteries held in this small case. Still, it is fascinating to imagine the journey that it took from a convent in Mexico to Indiana, then New York, and finally Santa Fe, and to consider those whose hands it passed through along the way.

Do you have information about this artwork?

We'd love to hear about it.

Email Us

Please include the RTC No. in your email. Thank you!