If someone out there in webland makes a link to my blog, and then someone else clicks on that link, I might be able to tell which site is referring to me. Sometimes this leads to unexpected discoveries. One of these incoming links is a query to an artifact collecting forum (boo) from a collector in southern California, who found the above small sculpture in Chumash territory. As is so common in the collector world, there is no other contextual information about this piece, which to my eye, appears to be an early historic Haida carving in argillite. Knowledgeable readers may wish to weigh in below in the comments section about the motifs and provenance of this sculpture – there are more fairly low-quality pictures here. How it made its way to the Santa Barbara area is anyone’s guess, it may have been a simple curio bought by a tourist, or it may be a now-lost bit of evocative human history like the one I suggested here for Haida argillite found on San Juan Island.
Posted in Archaeology, California, Cultural Resource Management, Haida Gwaii, history, Northwest Coast
Tagged Archaeology, argillite, art, british columbia, California, Chumash, collecting, Haida, Haida Gwaii, pothunting, sculpture
“The giant of Happy Valley Esquivalt(?) [sic]. Sent to Professor Flower at Nat Hist Mus and returned to the owner Left McCallum.” Source: British Museum.
When I was looking for more information about the Coast Salish grave houses I pictured a few days ago
, I ran into these images from the British Museum. They show the torso and head of a large human figure, carved out of wood. The height of the sculpture is 4 foot 9 inches, meaning the whole sculpture, assuming it once had legs, would have stood well over seven feet tall. So, a giant indeed. There is very little information about the sculpture, other than it comes from happy Valley, “Esquivalt” – clearly meaning Esquimalt – a neighbouring municipality to the west of Victoria. The next municipality to the west is Colwood, and indeed it has a prominent “Happy Valley Road” running through it into Metchosin
. While at the first glance the sculpture doesn’t appear to be a typical NW Coast sculpture, I think there’s reason to at least consider that possibility.
[edit: be sure to see the comment from Pete at the bottom]
Posted in anthropology, First Nations, history, Northwest Coast, Vancouver Island
Tagged art, Coast Salish, Colwood, Esquimalt, Metchosin, Salish, sculpture, Songhees, Victoria BC
Grave near Victoria on the harbour, 1859, by William Tyrwhitt-Drake. Source: British Museum. Click for their record and verso.
So, not long ago we had an excellent discussion here centered around Edward Richardson’s 1864 painting of a Coast Salish grave house or mausoleum. I’ve recently come across another set of images of these places which are so important to First Nations. These images were painted by well-known early Victoria resident (and former mayor and Supreme Court of BC Justice) Montague Tyrwhitt-Drake. They’re pretty interesting paintings from the early colonial period on southern Vancouver Island which I don’t recall seeing before.
The painting above clearly shows a small mausoleum, weighted with rocks on top, in front of which are two carved figures. The one on the right includes fishers or river otters, both of which have important spiritual significance in this area. Each of these images has notes on the back, which are also reproduced at the British Museum site (click the image to go to the accession record). For this image, the notes aren’t transcribed, though maybe someone with better olde handwritinge fkills would care to have a go As near as I can make out, the back reads:
This is another eccentric specimen of Indian taste for sculpture, it is equal to the finest specimens of _________ — see the elegant attitude of that man scratching his ?cheek bone, but a _____ ________ _______ would have mastered __________ a flight of ___________ imagination. The other is holding two dogs [sic] of a breed which I am afraid is lost to the present generation. This ______ are carved in wood and _____ ________ near a large grave of the family vault above ground ___________ .
It”s true, both sculptures are lively and naturalistic. In both cases, and the one below, there is apparently a rendering of face paint. I’m sure those readers more knowledgeable than I will see a lot of interesting detail in these pictures. Note the open prairie environment – anthropogenic Garry Oak meadow, no doubt.
Posted in Archaeology, archives, First Nations, Northwest Coast, Vancouver Island
Tagged Esquimalt, graves, mausoleum, mortuary, painting, sculpture, Songhees, Victoria, Victoria BC, William Tyrwhitt-Drake
Screen shot of human seated figure bowl on boardroom table. Is this a “wild and wacky [sic] object”? Source: Times Colonist.
This short piece
) 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
: “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.
Posted in anthropology, Archaeology, Cultural Resource Management, First Nations, Northwest Coast
Tagged Archaeology, art, auctions, Bowls, CBC, First Nations, repatriation, sculpture, Stone Bowls, television
Gwayasdums house under construction 1899. Source: SFU.
The Bill Reid Centre for Northwest Coast Art Studies is part of the Department of Archaeology and First Nation Studies at Simon Fraser University, although it is physically located in downtown Vancouver. It currently shares space with the Bill Reid Gallery on Hornby St., near SFU’s Harbour Centre Campus. They have a website that looks to be growing fast with some good content – and despite the name of the centre, it is not only about Haida Art, or even just about Art:
A major activity of the Centre is to visually document through photographs, drawings and other works, the depth and richness of Northwest Coast Art in the hundreds of communities in which monumental architecture and sculpture were recorded.
I’ll point out a few highlights and make some comments “after the jump”
I’m a big fan of classic Northwest Coast art – it’s hard not to be. But there is also a large and highly talented array of indigenous Northwest Coast artists who work in a variety of media and contemporary idioms. One who recently caught my eye is Sitka Tlingit artist Nicholas Galanin. You probably recognize the figure in the foreground above: Bill Reid’s iconic “Raven and the First People” (if not from class, then from your 20$ bill), which tells the story of Raven-Travelling in ancient times, finding a clamshell, hearing noises inside, and releasing people and animals into a transforming world.
But wait, what’s that figure in the background, on the other side of the glass window, in the courtyard of the MOA?
Posted in alaska, First Nations, Haida Gwaii, Northwest Coast
Tagged art, Bill Reid, Haida Art, MOA, Museum of Anthropology, museums, Nicholas Galanin, sculpture, Sitka, tlingit, Tlingit Art
Haida carved cockle. Source: Peabody.
The Peabody Museum at Harvard has a predictably great collection from the Northwest Coast. I’m more drawn to the archaeological-type artifacts vs. the masks and baskets and argillite, but fill your eyes with the charming Haida carving of a cockle, above, collected in “Massett Bay”.
One nice thing about this collection is the accession ledger is also scanned in and made available. For example, if you go the the page for the cockle above here, you can click on the cockle picture for a higher resolution, on the first ledger page for the left hand side of the ledger book, and on the second for the right hand side. It is possible in this way to do some ad hoc fact checking of their descriptions to finding additional information. For example, the cockle’s second page contains the notation “taken from the interior of R/200”. Accession number R/200 turns out to be this unusual ?argillite carved box with inlaid shell.
Some of the other objects are equally unusual – I’d say there are more “wow – never seen one of those before” moments in this collection than any other I have seen.
Posted in anthropology, Archaeology, archives, First Nations, Haida Gwaii, history, Northwest Coast
Tagged clubs, digging sticks, Haida, Harvard, mauls, Nuu-chah-nulth, Peabody Museum, Salish, sculpture
The Sechelt Image. Detail of Screenshot from the Museum of Vancouver. (click for full screen or scroll down)
The Museum of Vancouver has a pretty slick and punchy website from a design point of view, very “Web 2.0” with bright colours and links to twitter and facebook and the like. But in some respects it fails, and fails badly. Consider the image above: the “Sechelt Image”, a stone sculpture and one of the most famous objects in BC Archaeology. A single low-resolution picture is offered, a link to which is not possible, and downloads of which are deliberately made difficult. And in this protective bubble, the object can only be seen as a pale, grainy image, surrounded by the Museum’s loud and crass colour scheme. (Update: see full screenshot below: the Vancouver Museum overlays its neon social web over the Sculpture much like Vancouver itself overlays aboriginal culture).
Fine – I am used to that ridiculous phenomenon wherein Public Institutions think they own the images that they are entrusted with – if the image is allowed to be seen by the descendent communities (and in this case I wonder if it really is) then why can it not be seen in high resolution, free from the magenta borders and the exhortations to tweet!?
But the real problem is that the web designers, with their stupid and un-necessary banner reading “Sechelt Image carved stone figure”, obscure an important area of the sculpture, including the all-important vulva which reveals, as noted by Wilson Duff, that this sculpture is powerfully hermaphroditic. It is not just bad and regressive museology to cover up an important part of an object, but I believe it is deeply disrespectful as well. By obscuring part of the image and by imprisoning it within their branded frame and obfuscating web design, they, the (hopefully) temporary guardians of this powerful piece of art, are visually co-opting it for what amounts to advertising purposes. There is no reason to put your label over top of that which you claim to be displaying for its own sake; no reason other than marketing zeal and lack of control over the web designers.
You might think it was just prurience over the frankly sexual image, but below we see another image from their website with no shocking! vulva! to conceal, which has been similarly branded and bounded by the MoV. Maybe I am just mad at them still because they’re using a petroglyph boulder as a rock garden (note the obscuring “petroglyph” banner) but really: their website is an egregious example of stealth appropriation and blatant disrespect under the disguise of progressive design and social networking. And I’m just a dumb archaeologist: I’d love to see a Visual Anthropologist dissect the public face they are so eager for the world to see, the face they insist must frame every image on their website.
The Skytte stone bowl. Screenshot from the Museum of Vancouver website. Click for full screen.
The Website sends the Message: "This is Not a Place of Honour. There is No Dignity Here."
Posted in anthropology, Archaeology, Cultural Resource Management, First Nations, Lower Mainland, Northwest Coast
Tagged hermaphrodites, Museum of Vancouver, museums, sculpture, Sechelt, Vancouver Museum, Visual Anthropology, Wilson Duff