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The Steven Michaan Collection of North American Tribal Art : The Art of the Spirit World : Woodlands
Northeast Woodlands (Southern New England)
Human Effigy Bowl
Ash Burl, 14 ⅞” Length, c.1660 (or earlier)
Northeast Woodlands(Southern New England)Human Effigy Bowl

This extraordinary bowl is possibly the only surviving example of a human effigy bowl of Southern New England origin. It is also quite likely one of the oldest, non-excavated, Woodlands wooden objects extant.

Early Algonquian effigy bowls of the Southern New England area were often nearly perfectly round with a broad flat bottom and a single castellation.

The castellation herein portrays the shoulders and head of a man. The carving of the face is direct and sublime—it is Woodlands carving at its core—quiet and understated, yet undeniably powerful and profound.

The economy of detail is typical of faces carved by the Algonquian tribes (and found on pre-contact stone maskettes). The face is flatly carved and the eyes and nose are combined and defined by slightly arched, upside-down and opposing ells. The backside of the head and shoulders are flush with the curve of the bowl.

Robert Hobbs writes of the Algonquians (Torrence & Hobbs, Art of the Red Earth People: The Mesquakie of Iowa, 1989), “They regard trees, for example, as their grandparents. And bowls are formed of burls, which appear on tree trunks in enlarged growths that resemble the swelling caused by a human fetus. Since a tree’s swelling burl is a metaphor for fecundity, these bowls serve also as an image of hope in the sacred feasts where they are used.”

Effigy bowls were revered objects and passed down from generation to generation. Through these vessels, their ancestors (metaphorically the physical material of the bowl) and effigy (the spirit of the carving) would nourish a new generation with each succession.

This bowl is in a remarkable state of preservation and maintains a stunning presence. The interior is well marked with hundreds of utility marks and is blackened from repetitive use over many years and generations.

Samuel Wineck, Hartford, CT
Reginald Rose, Oyster Bay, NY