Seated Human Figure Bowl going up for sale?

Screen shot of human seated figure bowl on boardroom table.  Source: Times Colonist.

Screen shot of human seated figure bowl on boardroom table. Is this a “wild and wacky [sic] object”? Source: Times Colonist.

This short piece (PDF) in the Times Colonist caught my eye, and not in a good way. First, a private citizen apparently owns a large human seated figure bowl, an artifact of immense cultural significance, and is apparently willing to enter a process leading to its sale.  That’s bad news and potentially extremely inflammatory, especially in the context of the CBC reality T.V, show “Four Rooms” (tagline: “four rooms. four buyers. four chances to make a fortune”).

It’s crass and disrespectful to treat these objects like this.  The picture above of one casually manhandled on a boardroom table, apparent scrape marks down its side, is angry-making!  These objects routinely have handling, viewing, and storage restrictions in museums and at cultural centres.

Anyway, the attempted sale of stone figures (bowls and sculptures, for the most part) has led to some of the more bitter legal tussles in recent years* (if only The Midden was online to link to, they have some great articles on this topic edit: look here), while their repatriation through legitimate means has led to remarkable scenes of reconciliation (e.g., Stone T’xwelátse, this stone bowl (PDF).

This figure bowl sold recently for $18,000.  There’s a lot at stake for all sides.

Does anyone know if this is a known bowl. Has it been documented and if so how/where, what is its original origin? To which First Nation does this bowl belong? What are the current legal rights of the owners to sell such an object?  I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted but it’d be good to see some discussion around this CBC show generally and this bowl specifically.

*in fact the ASBC site as a whole appears to be down.

11 responses to “Seated Human Figure Bowl going up for sale?

  1. Thanks for posting about this. I happen to have an old stack of ‘The Midden’ beside me and see a headline article from December 1993 Volume 25, Number 5 entitled: “Bowl ‘purchase’ aimed at Changing Heritage Laws” The article details how a stone bowl was offered for sale by an antiques dealer who had a history of exporting such items to US. The article mentions how Barb Winter from SFU museum and Diana Henry from the Saanich Native Heritage Society coordinated involvement from the Provincial Archaeology Branch and the Federal Cultural Properties Review Board to take action to prevent this bowl from being exported. The article concludes by stressing that “the return of cultural property to original owners is a gesture that builds trust and faith in curatorial and archaeological practices in our province.”

    Hopefully participants will soon recognize how wrong and ethically challenged this glorified TV auction is for this particular case.

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    • Greetings. I see someone has posted the special edition of The Midden vol 39(1) online here:

      http://imgur.com/a/4BL1P#0 (set of 20 image files)

      Which has a lot of great information about stone bowl sales, auctions, the Archaeology Branch response, etc. Good background for this topic.

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  2. Maybe the threat of controversy will decide against this object being selected as a finalist. I’m afraid they will decide that adds spice and could help ratings.

    The damage looks like typical backhoe teeth scrapes. Bet it’s from some unreported and undocumented site impact.

    Tv the last decade has done no favors for real archaeology. I saw one program last week on a Huron longhouse village that dealt with genuine archaeology. Unfortunately it was boring because they dragged out a half hour or 45 min topic into an hour and a half. But at least it was real, but it was one against dozens of pseudo-archaeology shows (I was sick for a couple of days and watched a Lot of tv). Even National Geographic channel has mostly destructive drivel featuring anti-academic louts with metal detectors. I’d hoped to get CBC interested in taping at our Prince Rupert project –” I thought the combination of technology, cool features, amazing artifacts, the setting, and Tsimshian people connecting directly with their past would be a natural. I researched and did a little promotion, no one interested it seemed.

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  3. twoeyes – thanks for that reference. Do you know why the ASBC site is completely down? It returns a message “account suspended”.

    Ed – thanks for the link! I’ll edit a link into the post as a whole. There’s more than that as really good recent commentaries on heritage issues / repatriation etc in The Midden, on paper at least.

    Morley – yeah, I think TV likes simple narratives, especially conflict. Who has the highest price artifact? What will the experts say? Who can bargain down the price? Will there be a smug look when the winner is announced? So maybe if you could possibly drum up some exciting crew conflict at Prince Rupert, musical tents, assault with marshalltown, that kind of thing.

    But yeah, someone told the owner it was about 2,000 years old (probably correct ballpark) – could be an archaeologist has seen it. Could be it’s a well-known piece. I don’t recognize it from, say, Images Stone B.C. Anyone else?

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  4. hi Q, the ASBC website is down because it got hacked (probably by some 29 year old working for the US govt. ;)) the ASBC administrator(s) announced on twitter that they are working on getting the website restored (at least their twitter account is still alive).

    Lesley Birchard, a CBC “executive in Charge of Programming for Factual Entertainment at CBC TV” also announced on twitter that she is going to share these concerns “with the @cbcfourrooms team”. Hopefully, they will quickly build their awareness about archaeological heritage legislation and cultural properties regulations and seek ways to make this wrong – right.

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  5. Thanks twoeyes. Tweets are very reassuring.

    I guess my worry is that they actually crave a good controversy and would like nothing better than to have a big hot-button issue especially since the law isn’t actually super clear on this point as far as I can tell, but most likely the cake maker does have the legal right to sell the piece. I suppose we’d need to know more about how she came to be in possession of it.

    That’s why I’m wondering if anyone knows of this particular bowl. There’s only a couple of dozen of them known so if this is a new one that’s pretty remarkable independent of the CBC angle.

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  6. lekw’elás (Thomas R. Speer)

    Thank you for bringing this travesty to public attention. Here in Occupied Duwamish Territory (as the Blue Scholars put it), some of us are very concerned about this immoral – if not illegal – sale of a sacred “Seated Human Figure Bowl”.

    Our Teachings say that this “object” is a living being, an inalienable communal property, part of the collective heritage that needs to return to its First Nation. No one person has the right to sell it.

    Who among British Columbia’s First Nations is protesting the proposed sale of this “Seated Human Figure Bowl”?

    Please let us know. Thank you in advance.

    lekw’elás ti’dsta (Place-of-the-Fire I am named)
    dxdew?ábS Ved (People-of-the-Inside, “Duwamish”, I am)
    tulal Ved sá’cakaA (I am from Water-at-Head-of-the-Bay, “Mercer Slough”)

    lekw’elás (Thomas R. Speer)
    Member, historic Sackman Family, Chief Seattle & Princess Angeline’s direct descendants (Roblin’s Rolls, 1916)
    Member, dxdew?abS (People-of-the-Inside), Chief Seattle’s Duwamish Tribe of Indians, Signatories, the 1855 Point Elliott Treaty
    Co-Founder, sbeEa?ábS (Blue Heron Heritage Family), 2012
    Member, Founding Artists Circle, Bill Holm Center for the Study of Northwest Coast Art, Burke Museum of Natural History, University of Washington (2003-present)
    Advisor, Duwamish Tribal Council (2006-2011)
    Member, Board of Directors, Duwamish Tribal Services (2002-2012)
    Mentor, t!ilibSedeb (Singing-Feet) Duwamish Tribe heritage group (2002-2012)

    Affiliations are provided solely for purposes of identification.

    (206) 375-2249
    E-Mail: trspeer@yahoo.com

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    • Hello lekw’elás, and welcome to the blog.

      I am not sure which BC First Nations might already be protesting this event, or have interest in doing so. Much would depend on where the bowl is from, I suspect.

      I fully take your point about the living-being nature of these objects in at least some cases. This was made clear in the circumstances around Stone T’xwelátse. Protocol might demand this bowl be kept with cedar, for example, and perhaps it is – but I doubt it.

      Anyway, I think the best way to further the cause from a distance is simply to raise awareness of this issue – post a link to this blog post on facebook, for example, comment on newspaper articles, write to the CBC or approach them on twitter https://twitter.com/cbcfourrooms

      (Though as I noted above, the more controversy they get, the better, from their point of view?)

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  7. Times Colonist article published this article yesterday identifying the location as Qualicum beach and other key details including the reaction of First Nations, the Royal BC Museum, the BC Archaeology Branch and the CBCfourrooms television producer who is clearly liking the attention as Q predicts…
    http://www.timescolonist.com/cbc-unearths-controversy-as-island-first-nations-artifact-considered-for-tv-1.373343

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  8. sounds like these id@#$s have decided to feature the stone bowls on their show and even their website, Shame on CBC for this
    http://www.cbc.ca/fourrooms/items/harris-bowl

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  9. What distressing news this is.. though the BCAPA is not surprised. When we wrote to the producers of the show last summer we received a disinterested and unconcerned response from the CBC and the producers of the 4 Rooms show.

    We will be sharing our opinion with the CBC on the unethical, irresponsible, and disrespectful decision that has been made to sell the artifact and encourage others to do the same. – Kim Berg, President – BC Association of Professional Archaeologists.

    Like

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