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The Steven Michaan Collection of North American Tribal Art : The Art of the Spirit World : Actic
Net Float with Anthropomorphic Face
Hardwood, Trade Bead & Ivory, 5½" Diameter, c.1850-1880
Nunivak Island Fishing Lure

Float plugs are used in seal hunting, similarly functioning as do net floats. They differ, however, in that they only come into play once the animal has been caught. A float plug is used to stop a hole in a balloon-like float, made from seal gut or intestine, and is usually tied to a net, or sometimes to the line at the tail-end of a harpoon.

Once the animal is ensnared, or struck, the large float is dragged along with it, to deter its force in attempted escape, and to indicate its location once it has stopped moving.

Given the purpose of the float plug, it is interesting that they are most commonly adorned with human figures, rather than in animal form. Perhaps this reflects the notion that trapping an animal is an exclusively human pursuit, and thus no animal could rightly be substituted.

In the example shown here, the effigy is smiling. The smile might be understood as belonging to a hybrid animal, a human in transformation to a seal-like manifestation.

Could this human be pleased with his transition, as it represents a harmonic embodiment of animal-human duality?