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Bentwood box [.1] painted with bird designs and lid [.2] inlaid with shell. [CAK 08/02/2010]

Longer Description

Bentwood box [.1] painted with bird designs and lid [.2] inlaid with shell. Made from a single piece of cedar that has been kerfed, steamed and bent to form four sides of the rectangular box. It has been stitched along one corner. The long sides of the box are the front and back. The short sides are the sides of the box. One long side has a characteristic formline face in the centre with eyes, eyebrows, nose and mouth clearly visible. There are also bird head designs show in profile in each upper corner. The birds may be herons. The other long side has a similar facial design, but does not have the bird heads. In the lower central portion of this side is a representation of Kuugin Jaad (Mouse Woman). The short sides are painted with a bird whose head is shown in profile, and whose body is shown from the front on. The bird has a long thin beak with ends that curve downwards. The body is circular with a design in the centre that radiates outward. Tail feathers are present, but wings are lacking. The design has been identified as fireweed with a bird's head. There are also sets of vertical dashes along the edges of the short sides. The box has two animal leather handles, both of which are broken. The base of the box and the lid had been stitched together with bark and iron. The lid has been inlaid with 6 groups of 6 operculum shells, three groups on each of the long sides, though some of these are now missing. [CAK 08/02/2010]

Primary Documentation

Accession Book Entry - 'WELLCOME HISTORICAL MEDICAL MUSEUM (From Seventh distribution, at the British Museum, on 24-1-'52.)... 1952.5.39 N.W. COAST AMERICAN INDIAN. [insert] HAIDA? [end insert] Steamed wooden box c. 18" x 15" x 15". Painted with bold animal and bird designs on the two long sides. Lid inlaid with a few small shells.

There is no further information on the catalogue card. [CW 11/6/98]

Written on object [inside box] - Kisp.c' [MJD 05/05/2009]

Related Documents File - A comparison of the grooving and bending techniques used to make this box and 1935.59.3 is discussed on Tape 1, time 36:05 and time 40:08. A comparison of this box to chest 1884.57.25 .1-.2 is made on Tape 5, time 11:00 in the Haida Project RDF. The Haida Project Related Documents File contains video of research sessions and interviews with Haida delegates from September 2009 as part of the project ‘Haida Material Culture in British Museums: Generating New Forms of Knowledge'. It also includes post-visit communications that discuss object provenance. For extensive photographic, video, and textual records documenting the Haida research visit as a whole, including but not limited to preparations of objects for handling, travel logistics, British Museum participation, transcribed notes from research sessions and associated public events held at PRM, see the Haida Project Digital Archive, stored with the Accessions Registers. Original hand-written notes taken during research sessions have been accessioned into the Manuscripts collection, in addition to select other materials. [CAK 02/06/2010]

Research Notes

The following information comes from Haida delegates who worked with the museum's collection in September 2009 as part of the project “Haida Material Culture in British Museums: Generating New Forms of Knowledge” :
This bentwood box was looked at alongside other bentwood boxes on Thursday, Sept 10, 2009. The wood was identified as red cedar and the stitching was identified as spruce root. People believed this to be an early piece. It was also suggested that the handles were added later. The bird design on the sides of the box provoked a lot of discussion. People thought it was a Northwest Coast design although it was reminiscent of Ojibwe designs. They had seen this bird design on other NWC boxes, however, people were uncertain about the box's Haida attribution. The design and formline are atypical, and the eyes do not keep with Haida styles. Christian White thought the bird could be a heron, which is a design used by carvers, and that it may be the work of a Haisla artist. Multiple uses were proposed for the box, one of which was a carver's tool box, or for sale. Jaalen Edenshaw noted that the dashes down the sides of the box are similar to those on some of the dishes found in PRM's collection. The designs on the front and back (i.e. the long sides) were also noted as being similar to designs normally found on sides of boxes. Billy Yovanovich III identified the side panels on this box as being fireweed (also called 'single delight', which is a purple flower similar to a dandelion) with a bird's head on top. Gwaai Edenshaw noted that the box was bent in a peculiar way. He commented that although it was a square cut, there was still pressure on the joint, which loses or lessens the advantage of kerfing and bending the wood. He compared it to box 1935.59.3 where the joints are at 45 degree angles in the corners, as opposed to this box where the joints are at 90 degrees.
A request was made for infrared photography of the designs on this box, particularly of the unusual bird design.
Two episodes involving this box were filmed during the visit. On Tape 1, at time 36:05, Gwaai Edenshaw explains the difference between the grooving and bending techniques used on this box and the techniques used on another box in the collection [1935.59.3]. This is further discussed by Christian White at time 40:08. On Tape 5, at time 11:00, Nika Collison and Jason Alsop bring this box alongside the short sides of the large bentwood chest [1884.57.25.1 - .2] to compare the designs painted on each. The tapes can be found in the Haida Project Related Documents File. [CAK 08/02/2010]

Item History

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