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The Steven Michaan Collection of North American Tribal Art : The Art of the Spirit World : Northwest Coast
Shaman's Deer Hoof Rattle
Sitka Black-tailed Deer Hooves, Dew Claws, Fiber & Paint, 12⅜” Height, c.1850-1880
Tlingit Shaman's Deer Hoof Rattle
Tlingit Shaman's Deer Hoof Rattle

Hollow, dried deer hooves and dew-claws were often employed by Shaman of the Northwest Coast as percussive musical instruments. Sometimes they were attached by leather thongs to the calves or ankles of a dancer (as among the Coast Salish), or to the fringe of a northern-coast painted leather or Chilkat-woven dancing kilt or apron. Occasionally hooves were attached to steam-bent or sculptured wood forms for use as hand-held rattles, as in this unusually detailed example.

A dynamic pair of bears is represented here in the carved form of the 'handle' of the rattle, to which a large number of deer hoofs (the larger, triangular shapes) and dew-claws (the smaller, rounded ones) have been attached with threadlike fibers.

Decades of use are indicated by the polished surface of the waist of the main image, where the user would grasp the object. Shaking the rattle produces a complex, sonorous rattling sound that is unique to this form of the instrument.

Composed of two bears, the larger, elongated animal is carved with humanoid elements and proportions, representing the shaman himself and indicative of the transformational state that is at the core of the shamanic experience.

The smaller bear appears to represent the yeik, or spirit helper. With its head and forelegs perched between the shaman's bear-like ears, the yeik's body drapes down the neck and upper back of the larger figure. Its feet are represented as an additional pair of bear's head images and are indicative of the ethereal, spirit form of such shamanic characters.

Exhibited: Jackson Pollock et le Chamanisme
Pinacothèque de Paris, 2008