Not a Pipe Dream

western-artist_Martin-Grelle_pipe-carrrierHoward Terpning has been described as the “finest artist of Plains Indian history” by David Joseph, when he was the owner of B&R Gallery, but Clifton, Texas, artist Martin Grelle looks to be climbing up the ladder to Terpning’s territory.

At this year’s Scottsdale Art Auction, held on April 6, Grelle’s painting broke the auction record for the artist when the hammer fell at $425,000. Sure, that’s less than the $550,000 bid for Terpning’s Against the Cold Maker and far less than the $1.7 million record-breaking bid for Terpning’s Captured Ponies, at Scottsdale Art Auction last year.

But with Grelle’s Trappers in the Wind Rivers selling at the Prix de West art sale in 2008 for $406,000, and this year’s artwork, Prayers of the Pipe Carrier, selling for $125,000 over the auctioneers’ estimated high price, collectors are pulling Grelle to higher ground.

Grelle is no stranger to lovers of Western art. This very magazine, in fact, named him the top Western painter in 2011. The year 2008 may have been the first glimpse of a Plains Indian contest between the respected and admired Terpning and the up-and-coming Grelle. Terpning got the top bid at Wyoming’s Jackson Hole Art Auction for New Doll for My Granddaughter, but the crowd favorite was Grelle, who sold four paintings at or above their high estimates; his Camp Meat and Mules wowed auctioneers when it reached $275,000.

If the collector response to Terpning is any indicator, next year might reveal Grelle’s million-dollar baby. In 2005, Terpning had earned a respectable sale of $320,000 at Coeur d’Alene Art Auction for Offerings to the Sun and the same price for He Rode Over His Enemy at Altermann Galleries’ auction. The next year, Coeur d’Alene broke that record in a big way, with The Search for the Renegades bidding in at $1.3 million, preceded by The Stragglers, at $950,000, and Signals in the Wild, at $650,000.

Grelle fans do have another chance to buy his art this year. The Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma, will showcase new Grelle paintings through July 14.

Will collectors show the same frenzy for Grelle’s artwork in the near future? Only time will tell. For now, they seem happy to have two fantastic contemporary artists who revel in portraying the history of Plains Indian tribes.

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