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The Steven Michaan Collection of North American Tribal Art : The Art of the Spirit World : Northwest Coast
Fish Club
Hardwood, 23” Length, c.1880 -1890
Tlingit Fish Club
Whale Rattle

Like many food gathering clubs of its kind, this fish club is carved in the form of a sea lion.

The sea lion was seen as a powerful hunter with free run of the ocean; graceful, strong, and fast. The sea lion nearly always catches its prey and such natural prowess made it an appropriate power image for a hunter’s or fisher’s hunting implement.

In hunting sea mammals or catching large fish it was important to subdue the animal or fish to keep it from upsetting the hunter’s canoe or breaking a hunter's leg. A solid strike with a club such as this was good insurance against such mishaps, but beyond their utility, they reflect a war club tradition of decorated weapons that pay homage to both the prey and its sacrifice.

On the Northwest Coast, masterful, iconic objects have always inspired successive versions of themselves. By this iterative process, subgroups of object types have developed a continuity and each example exhibits new characteristics and details that were alien to the source.

This club follows the basic form of the sea lion type, with a large head on the tip and a straight body form with the tail and rear flippers terminating at the handle end. The addition of a reclining human on the back of the creature is totally original and makes it unique.

The tragedies of the late contact and settlement period of the second half of the nineteenth century greatly diminished the old Tlingit systems of apprenticeship. Nonetheless, surviving artists were still called upon to create objects.

With less instruction and knowledge of art tradition, these later artists were left to their own devices and created new aesthetics based on existing works. This piece is a masterpiece of those new traditions and is a unique and remarkable expression of the carvers own individuality.


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