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Huntington museum to auction off 100-year-old stuffed bison head

Proceeds from Saturday's auction are to be used to acquire items focusing on the Heckscher Museum's core collection of regional artwork.

The Hecksher Museum in Huntington is selling a

The Hecksher Museum in Huntington is selling a bison head with proceeds to go toward buying new artwork for its permanent collection.   Photo Credit: South Bay Auctions

For years, a large stuffed bison head looked down on visitors entering the Heckscher Museum of Art in Huntington where, in its early days, display items consisted of objects and curiosities from benefactor August Heckscher.

On Saturday, it goes up for auction at South Bay Auctions Inc. in East Moriches.

The head, which is estimated to be about 100 years old, along with Egyptian artifacts, ceremonial cannons, snuffboxes and preserved shark snouts, decades ago were deemed not contributing to the educational purposes of the museum, which has a collection focusing mainly on 19th and 20th century artwork with special emphasis on art of the New York region.

The old items were packed away and stored for decades and, in 2011, they started to be sold.

“We suspect it was probably on view from 1920 to the mid-50s,” Michael W. Schantz , executive director and chief executive of the museum, said of the head. “Quite a long run."

Its sale follows those of other artifacts that were not central to the core collection. Maintaining them is time consuming, Schantz said.

 In addition to the Egyptian collections, the museum has also auctioned an antique carpenter tool collection, two ceremonial canons, and a Native American Indian collection. 

The Huntington Town Board in August 2016 authorized the sale of the bison head by public auction with proceeds going toward future purchase of new collection objects.

The museum sits within the 18.5-acre Heckscher Park, which was conveyed to the town by the Heckscher Trust in 1954 in exchange for town officials maintaining and operating the property, including the museum, in perpetuity.

The nonprofit Heckscher Museum Inc. was created in 1957 to assist the town with the management of the museum. The corporation has had formal responsibility for operating the museum since 1964.

John Coraor , former director of cultural affairs for the town and the museum’s executive director from 1988  to 2000, said the bison head is not a fine art object and is not appropriate to have on view in the museum’s galleries.

“In August Heckscher’s day it was a very personal museum made up primarily of his art collection and other things he collected,” Coraor said. “But that was of the nature of a 1800s small museum, which tended to be a curiosity cabinet of objects that were collected.”

Schantz said proceeds from the sale of the bison head will be used to add to the museum’s permanent collections such as buying more art by important Long Island artists.  The auction house catalog estimates the head to sell at $300 to $500.

“We won’t be adding a stuffed anything," Schantz said. "We’ll be adding either a painting or a sculpture or work on paper — things that fit our collecting priorities."

Buying a Bison Head

Measures 42 inches tall, 27 inches wide and 37 inches deep

Was displayed at the Heckscher Museum from 1920 to the mid-1950s

Has since been in storage

Is being auctioned on Saturday by South Bay Auctions Inc. in East Moriches

Proceeds will go to acquiring items for the permanent collection that focuses on regional art

Source: Heckscher Museum

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