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The Steven Michaan Collection of North American Tribal Art : The Art of the Spirit World : Northwest Coast
Sheep Horn Bowl
Dall Sheep Horn & Mountain Goat Horn, 6¼” Length, c.1820-1840
Tsimshian Sheep Horn Bowl
Tsimshian Sheep Horn Bowl
Tsimshian Sheep Horn Bowl

This unique and graceful small carving is a masterpiece of sculpture and design and is distinguished by its uncommonly beautiful and ingenious use of mountain sheep horn. The gently curling horns of the Dall Sheep, found in the higher elevations of the Pacific coastal mountain range, provide one of the most remarkable materials employed by Northwest Coast carvers.

The horn is easily carveable and holds extremely fine detail. In this example, the carver utilized every available fraction of an inch of what was apparently a very large horn to create the bowl, as reflected by the very slight curve that the figure follows from head to foot.

The concept of the reclining human figure is an old one and the face is distinctly Tsimshian in style, sculpted with all the refinement and detail of a full-size mask or totem pole face. The prominent cheekbone ridge, thin drawn-back lips, and nearly straight profile are all characteristics of Tsimshian sculpture.

The black eyes are inlaid with mountain goat horn, the wide mouth has two rows of teeth, between which protrudes the figure’s tongue, and usually depict a trance state or spiritual communication in shamanic objects such as rattles or amulets. The use of this device in this bowl suggests that it may have been created as a vessel in which a shaman could prepare herbal preparations.

The bowl shows no apparent sign of being used to serve seal oil, the common condiment eaten with dried or smoked fish, which was the intent of many wooden and horn bowls. This tiny vessel seems to be too small for even an individual serving of oil, suggesting that it may well have been used by a Tsimshian shaman.

The Honorable Simon Cameron, United States Senator
Secretary of War to President Abraham Lincoln.