22 jun 2011

Haida Ivory Raven Face

Name: Haida Ivory Raven Face
Origin: Haida people, Queen Charlotte Islands, British Columbia (Canada)
Museum: Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, Texas (USA)
Material: Walrus ivory and shell inlay
Reference code: 1977.29.McD
Age: mid-19th century
The raven is a ubiquitous figure in the art and mythology of the cultures of the Northwest Coast. Prominent among the legends associated with him is the Box of Daylight, which Raven opened at the beginning of time, thereby flooding the skies forever with sunlight and, in the process, scorching his white feathers black.
While the specific purpose of this handsome carving of walrus ivory remains unclear - it might be a knife handle or perhaps a cup - it most certainly would have conferred considerable esteem upon its owner. Datable on stylistic grounds to the mid-nineteenth century, it is compositionally related to spoons fashioned from horn and to figures carved from argillite.
Both these materials were readily available to the Haida people of the Queen Charlotte Islands off the coast of British Columbia. The tusk of the walrus, however, had to come from Eskimo country several hundred miles to the north, presumably as an object of trade and through several intermediaries. Only then could it have come to the Haida master who, working with tools crafted by native hands from European metal, transformed it into an image of radiant beauty.

© Photos and text: Dallas Museum of Art 

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