Council finds cash in the attic


Last week a beautiful sculpture of a Native American chief found by chance in Rye Town Hall sold for £120,000 at Sotheby’s. The bust is of Aysh-ke-bah-ke-ko-zhay, a powerful leader of the Ojibwa people, otherwise known as Flat Mouth, an English translation of Gueule Platte as he was called by French traders.

The bust is a variant of another which is on display in the US senate.  Aysh-ke-bah-ke-ko-zhay was part of a Native American delegation from the Midwest which visited Washington DC to negotiate land settlements in 1855. At this time he sat for the sculptor Francis Vincenti.

The sculpture’s final sale price was six times the estimate of £15,000-20,000.

How the bust found its way to Rye, where it was misidentified as a portrait of Dante, is a mystery. There is a letter in the US Senate archives from 1866 which refers to a “British Minister” who showed an interest in busts of Native Americans. Did he buy or commission this one and bring it back to the UK? But why Rye?

So what might this windfall be used for? We asked the Town Council and have received the following reply:

“The net proceeds (£111,360) are going into a ‘Flat Mouth’ Earmarked Reserve and will remain untouched in the short term. There has been no discussion on what they might be used for. Possible uses will become apparent during the preparation of next year’s budget (2020-21) – a draft of which will be considered at the January 27 Council meeting.”

Like many councils, town or district, Rye has seen its reserves steadily depleted over recent years, and careful consideration will be given to any immediate uses for the funds.

Image Credits: Sotheby's .

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  1. Would it not have occurred to you that native Americans live on reservations, in deep poverty and could use these funds to feed their children and provide educational and medical assistance? Here is their history in one sentence. Ojibwa also called Chippewa, self-name Anishinaabe, Algonquian-speaking North American Indian tribe who lived in what are now Ontario and Manitoba, Can., and Minnesota and North Dakota, U.S., from Lake Huron westward onto the Plains. Their name for themselves means “original people.” There are approximately 35,000 people living in a freezing winter climate and yet you announce how the funds will be held onto for the present. The U.S. government gives small stipends to these reservations and volunteers do what they can but it is not enough! Most residents of Sussex earn approximately $700+ U.S. Comfortable, to say the least. Could you not find it in your hearts to donate some of these proceeds for a treasure that has been “overlooked” for years and years to the Ojibwa? Tis the spirit of Christmas.

  2. If our town council has powers without prior consultation with residents to sell off assets, where does this end? What about the Heritage Centre is that for sale?
    How about using the windfall to endow the Heritage Centre before leasing that to a community charity to run it as the tourist attraction it should be.

  3. I cannot believe Rye Town Council decided to sell this beautiful piece of native American art without consultation with the people of Rye or a native American organisation or charity.
    It would look lovely placed on a plinth in the town hall or the museum. It would attract many paying visitors to the town. How short sighted this sad decision was. It’s appalling and those who took this decision should be made accountable.
    We need to know who made this decision.

    • I also wondered if keeping this piece of art would have generated more income to Rye over the long term…
      But not knowing all the can only surmise..
      Why the proceeds should go to USA and Native American charity I am not sure..
      As it said he sat for the sculptor and it is not know if he was paid and willing. The sculptor then sold it to a customer. I know at the time of the article being written it’s not know who that person was.
      So until more information can be established perhaps calls for the money raised by the Town council to be given away are premature..
      And discussions for the best way to use this unexpected financial gain should be taken seriously and wisely for the benefit of the electorate..

  4. Since the Rye Town Council has made this terrible indefensible decision to sell the sculpture, all the proceeds should go to the Ojibwa. Not part of the proceeds but all £111, 360.

  5. It is disturbing that Rye residents were not given an opportunity to see this outstanding work before it was sold. It is also a matter of concern that no opportunity was offered for public discussion about the fate of this treasure discovered in our Town Hall.

  6. I would like to find out a bit more about this, discover the facts and the procedure taken to auction this sculpture. I am not sure yet how I’ll proceed, if necessary by an FOI request.
    Please email me on juliajfarrington@gmail if you would like to assist me in fact finding and form a group to review the decision by the Rye Town Council.

  7. I imagine it’s too late to buy it back. However there are questions around how the proceeds, £111.360 should be spent and this would be an additional issue for a group to discuss.

  8. “‘It is a curious story. I have it written in faded ink.” So starts Benjamin Britten’s opera ‘Turn of the Screw’, based on a story by Rye’s most famous old boy Henry James. The curious story of the ‘Native American Bust’ also raises many issues, did no one think about display? Possibly linking it to many Americans who visit the town to see Lamb House (It’s just the type of thing the old buffer James would of bought). The sculpture does look magnificent: a chance for us to view it in real time has been lost and that is very sad. More worrying is how and why the decision was made: Rye town council please let us know …

  9. I thought I would add my thoughts and say that it would have been nice to have had a viewing for residents of this sculpture, but it is too late now.
    I feel the proceeds should not be frittered away but put in a Trust for the Heritage Centre. The town needs an Information point for visitors. Not everyone uses i phones etc. and many like to talk to real people about what there is to see and do. The Town Model has many groups and is an amazing asset to help finance the Centre.
    The Landgate clock, to me, is not as vital and the Landgate already has the shrub growing from the top, as are other plants. The cleaning and ridding of vegetation is not as thorough as it should have been and RDC needs to check the contract and get the firm back. My experience of the old regime at RDC when heavily involved with the Ypres Tower and its preservation does give me confidence, but the new Council might be better. I know RDC are having further cuts imposed on them by the government, but no money was spent for years on the Landgate although there was a small annual budget. It would seem to me that we have done without the clock for many years and a few more wont matter, better get the Landgate secure.
    Let us use this money to ensure the future of our Heritage Centre, so vital to our town.

  10. This looks like developing into another passionate debate. To those who have mentioned the Heritage Centre I thank you for your support and hope you will continue to support the charity that hope to run the centre and the Town Model. Just to clarify Tourist Information services will be provided from the Town Hall. The charity will run the Town Model and the Heritage centre. Negotiations with Rye Town Council are ongoing but we are confident of an agreement being in place before April. If you’d like to keep up to date you can join Support Rye Town Model on Facebook or look out for updates in RyeNews

  11. I have written formally to Mr Farhall about the sale of this sculpture. I’ll keep everyone posted here on Rye News or email

  12. Richard Farhall has replied very promptly to my letter. See above. I had asked him to let me know in which minutes the sale of the sculpture was discussed. He has sent me a copy of the minutes together with RTC’s correspondence with Sothebys.
    In Mr Farhall’s covering letter to me, he writes ..”The bust was sold because the Council’s subsidy of the Heritage Centre over a number of years had depleted its General Reserve – and the bust had no known association with Rye”
    I will read all the documentation and follow it up. I appreciate Mr Farhall’s prompt reply.

  13. Having read all of the replies about the bust of (the flat mouth) I feel the decision of where it came from should be ascertained.Then the Rye people to be consulted as to what parts of Ryes communities to share interests in development.
    Ernest Vicarey, Rye Resident


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