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The Steven Michaan Collection of North American Tribal Art : The Art of the Spirit World : Northwest Coast
Hardwood, 3½" Height, c.1800
Whale Rattle

Miniature sculptures on the Northwest Coast take many forms, from amulets, shaman’s figure masks, hair ornaments and combs.

The historical use for this object is unknown, though it appears as though it could have functioned as either a part of a larger sculpture, a toy or a hair ornament.

The compact face is carved in a totem-pole sculptural style, and could be of Tlingit or Tsimshian manufacture. The form of the cheeks and the wide, narrow lips suggest a Tsimshian artist, though the overall style could as likely be Tlingit, based on the work in some model totem poles from that area. The expression of the face seems to be a bit on the dour side, but it’s nonetheless got a good deal of character and refinement in the carving.

The size of the hole that pierces the woodcarving is about three-quarter of an inch and may have been a hair ornament, used to draw up strands of long hair until they were favorably positioned.

Objects of cross-cultural design were often made for fur trade workers such as the employees of the Hudson Bay Company, who had forts on the northern Northwest Coast at Fort Simpson and Fort Wrangell, though the Wrangell fort was abandoned in the 1840s.

Silver bracelets, wooden salad sets of serving spoon and fork, and other related objects can be found in collections around the country, usually brought back from employment or journeys on the Northwest Coast by family ancestors.


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