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The Steven Michaan Collection of North American Tribal Art : The Art of the Spirit World : Northwest Coast
Frog Bowl
Wood, Paint & Abalone Shell, 7½ Length, c.1860
Tlingit Frog Carving
Tlingit Frog Carving

Frogs were principal characters in many traditional stories that were (and still are) part of the oral history of Tlingit culture.

Like the character of the prince in shining armor in Western literature and children's stories, the frog was the character who rescued maidens from ordinary lives and magically transported them to another existence, in this case a watery underworld paradise where they were celebrated as princesses and queens.

To the shaman, the frog was equally important as both an illustrative example and a "yei", a spiritual helper. Like the shaman who existed in the physical world and made frequent passages to the spirit world, the amphibian frog comfortably existed in both the terrestial and aquatic worlds with equal mastery, with each environment providing the from with different skills : ie., hopping on land, and swimming under water. This parallel made for easily understood "medical" explanations of shamanic healing practices of earthly illness, which were thought to be remediable only in the spirit world.

While the exact purpose of this bowl or container is not known, it could easily be a shaman's carrying case for small objects or could possibly be a dowry box to be given to a maiden on the occasion of her wedding.

Technically, the piece is delicately carved and broadly detailed so as to represent all frogs and pay honor to them. The piece is unusual in that it represents a single creature without any of the combinations and metamorphisms that unite multiple spirits, characters and creatures in single sculptures.

Extravagantly set with abalone and masterfully carved, the object was either from a family of great wealth and cultural status or a shaman with sufficient resources to commission such a carving or produce it himself.