Slate Box Of 5 Carvings

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Topic
Ethnology
Data Source
NMNH - Anthropology Dept.
Donor Name
Mrs. Edward H. Harriman
Collector
Gov John G. Brady
See more items in
Anthropology
Place
Alaska, United States, North America
Accession Date
1912-Jun-07
Collection Date
1878
Specimen Count
5
Notes
From card: ""Slate box in 5 pieces; carving with totemic designs; beautifully carved." Attributed to the Haida carver Charles Edenshaw in Arts of the Raven by Duff, Holm & Reid - The Vancouver Art Gallery, June - September, 1967. Item 345. 4/17/67: some chipping all pcs., edges. 4/18/1967: loaned to Vancouver Art Gallery. 12/13/67: loan returned."
The Smithsonian only received 5 pieces of this box: back, top, bottom and two side panels. The front of the box was not received. Per Robin K. Wright, Burke Museum, March 3, 2011, this box is shown in a photo of Charles Edenshaw, c. 1890, in the collections of the Canadian Museum of Civilization, neg. no. 88926. Photo shows the missing carved face side of the box which has a beaver with frog in its mouth. The bear figure sitting on top of the box in the photo is in the collections of the Burke Museum. Robin K. Wright also attributes this piece to Charles Edenshaw.
Illus. Fig. 8, p. 18 in Wright, Robin Kathleen, Daina Augaitis, Robert Davidson, and James Hart. 2013. Charles Edenshaw. London: Black Dog Publishing. Identified there: "This chest combines the beaver and bear crests of Charles and Isabella Edenshaw. It was collected by Alaskan Governor John G. Brady sometime before 1909, when it was exhibited at the Alaska Yukon Pacific (AYP) Exposition in Seattle. The panel represents a bear with a human figure in its mouth. The chest's front panel with the beaver face that appears in the photograph [of Charles Edenshaw in the collections of the Canadian Museum of Civilization, neg. no. 88926] is now missing, and the bear figure on the top was also separated from the chest, probably after the AYP Exposition. The lid has a dogfish design flanked by two floral panels; the end panels both represent bears."
Notes from Robert Davidson (great-grandson of Charles Edenshaw) discussion of Edenshaw argillite chest # E274593, Feb 4, 2014, Vancouver Art Gallery, transcribed by Gail Joice, National Museum of the American Indian: "The earliest recorded Haida argillite piece is 1820. Robert estimates that NMNH chest dates from around 1880. NMNH piece is unique with the 3-D face - it could be a Grizzly bear with a bear cub in its mouth. [Has] salmon heads on either side. Edenshaw challenges symmetry by not repeating a the formline on the left salmon. Salmon forms parent of bear arm--the head is a ball joint, the void around the head is the socket. This shows the transparency of layers between natural and supernatural. Glue on the edges of the box is halibut tail skin boiled down. In the old days they used natural sponges from the beach to smooth the surface. In the 1940's they used steel wool. The polish was a mix of Vaseline and graphite. Design elements orient box: Double eye figure is always the front of the chest. A single eye is the back of the box. On the ends of the boxes there were always whimsical designs not related to the front design. On NMNH sides it shows probably a Grizzly face with teeth and nostrils. The eyes contain salmon trout and there are trout heads inside the paws. Choice of dogfish design for box lid shows the influence of [Edenshaw's] his wife Isabel's clan motif. The typical rope design of lid border was adapted from scrimshaw European design. The fish is a shark because it is always shown with one fin. A dogfish is shown with two fins. There is a salmon in the tail of the shark. The leaf designs are influenced by the florals of scrimshaw which also appear on silver engraving. Robert does not think the cone or berry is from a local plant but just copied from scrimshaw. The diagonal line in the stone at the lower right corner of the lid was identified by Davidson as a natural seam in the argillite. The softness of argillite allowed Edenshaw to be more spontaneous in design with more expressive movement than in wood carving. Argillite "carried the torch" for Haida culture during the time when Canadian law prohibited ceremonial practices and potlatches. Haida were allowed to carve argillite as a trade items when not allowed to make masks. Argillite trade followed the loss of sea otter fur as trade items."
Record Last Modified
1 Dec 2014
Object Type
Box
Accession Number
054171
USNM Number
E274593-0
Culture
Haida