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Chief's headdress with frontlet carved with a bear and frog and a train with ermine skins. [CAK 10/02/2010]

Publications History

Robin Wright, Northern Haida Master Carvers (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2001), p128 fig. 3.13: 'Headdress frontlet collected by the Reverend Charles Harrison. It belonged to Albert Edward Edenshaw and is attributed to an unknown artist.'

Illustrated (sketch only) on page 14 of Birds and Animals: A Pitt Rivers Museum Colouring Book, by Francia Turner and Julia Cousins (Oxford: Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford, 1986). Caption (same page) reads: 'Bear. Carving of a bear with a frog nipping the tip of its tongue to wake it from its winter sleep. It is part of a Haida Indian headdress. It is worn at a special ceremony to mark the beginning of Spring.' [JC 10 9 2004].

Trails - This object appears in the trails 'Unseen masks of the Pitt Rivers Museum' and 'Mad as a hatter' (both current from March 2005) [RTS 11/5/2005].
Used in Body Arts trail current from March 2005 [MdeA 13/5/2005]

Display History

The frontlet was on display in the court Case 8.A - Magic, witchcraft and shamanism. After a visit of Haida delegates in September 2009 it was decided to remove the headdress from this case as it had been wrongly associated with magic when such headdresses are worn by chiefs and not shamans. [FC 29/10/2009]

Displayed in the Special Exhibition On Top of the World at the PRM, 1986-87. [LMM ? / JC 16 8 1996]

Longer Description

Chief's headdress with frontlet carved with a bear and frog and a train with ermine skins. The frontlet once belonged to a Haida chief. The frontlet is carved from maple and illustrates a bear figure with a frog. The bear's eyes and eyebrows have been painted in black pigment. The bear's nose, mouth, body, arms and legs have been painted in a red pigment. The bear has its mouth open bearing a row of carved teeth and is sticking out its tongue. The bear's tongue is joining the frog's mouth. The frog is painted in green pigment with red feet and a rectangular piece of haliotis shell in the centre of the frog's body. The features of the bear and the frog have been carved in relief. Both of the bear's paws have been decorated with a square piece of haliotis shell. Both of the bear's feet have been decorated with semicircular pieces of haliotis shell. The central carved figures of bear and frog are framed with wood painted black and decorated with square pieces of haliotis shell, seven pieces on each side. Several of the pieces of haliotis shell have small circular perforations in the corners or along the edges. The bear's ears are decorated with two semicircular pieces of haliotis shell in each ear. A square piece of haliotis shell with two small circular perforations, one on each side, sits in-between the bear's ears. The pieces of haliotis shell have been glued in place with pitch. Dried pitch is visible around the edges of some of the pieces of shell. The carved wooden panel has been secured to three circular frames made from wood and secured together with vertical pieces of whale baleen, bound with sinew. The circular frame is decorated with sea lion whiskers of varying lengths secured vertically to the frame so that they protrude above the carved panel forming the central focus of the frontlet. The sea lion whiskers have been secured to the circular frame all the way around. On either side of the central carved panel a number of decorative flicker feathers have been attached to the circular frame. The feathers are black and white with a red shaft. To the right of the carved central panel pieces of skin, presumably bird, have been attached with white downy feathers. Two pieces of skin are visibly attached in the same place on the left hand side of the central carved panel but with no feathers or fur left. In the centre of the frame is a finely woven hat. The hat has been woven in red cedar bark in plain weave. Leather straps have been attached to the inside of the woven hat to secure to the head. A piece of leather shaped like the fluked tail of a whale stands erect from the top of the hat, attached towards the back centre of the hat. It would be used to would control the dispersal of bird down placed in the headdress when danced. Attached to the top circular frame are ten skinned ermine. The ermine have been sewn and bound to the top frame with string. Stitched to the bottom circular frame are lengths of flour sacking stitched together to form a train. Tied to the sacking are three lengths of wood or whale baleen approximately 370 mm long secured horizontally from one end of the sacking to the other and spread out at ermine length intervals. Secured to the lengths of wood or whale baleen are rows of skinned ermine. The skinned ermine are intact and still covered in a pale yellow fur. [FC 28/10/2009] [CAK 10/02/2010]

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 headdress was viewed alongside two other chief's headdresses on Friday Sept 11, 2009. Seeing the three headdresses together evoked a deep emotional response from all Haidas present. There was immense sadness. PRM staff was not prepared for this response. In the group who encountered the headdresses first, Vern and Diane said prayers and everyone sang songs. PRM staff were better able to prepare the afternoon group for what they were about to see. There were songs sung again, including the Chief's song, in the afternoon. After people had sang their respect for the chiefs who once wore these headdresses, Haidas began to describe them. It was believed that these headdresses would have belonged to important chiefs because of the prestigious materials used to make them.
This headdress was clearly identified as a Chief's headdress, therefore Haidas did not think it should return to its display in the Witchcraft case. The full range of materials used to make this headdress include: maple, sea lion whiskers, baleen, sinew, flicker feathers, swan down (possibly eagle down), haliotis shell, leather, red cedar bark, ermine skins, and cotton flour sack. Christian White noted that the figure on the frontlet is a bear. He also commented that the frontlet was carved from maple, a wood not found on Haida Gwaii but sourced from the mainland of British Columbia in the Skeena River Valley or in Alaska. Christian noted the haliotis shells on the frontlet were traded on strings from California. They would be given as gifts at potlatches. Thus, the holes in these shell pieces indicate the shell was received during a potlatch and are marks of distinction, rather than ‘flaws'. He thought the inner section woven from cedar bark was similar to one he has seen at the Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria, B.C. The woven section around the top edge of the baleen frame is plaited. He believes the haliotis shells are being held in place by pitch.
Candace Weir noted that the haliotis shells in each hand of the bear are different from each other and wondered if they might have been left over pieces of haliotis.
The group agreed it was rare to see a leather flap attached to the top of the headdress. The flap's shape was likened to a whale's fluked tail. Gwaai Edenshaw suggested this flap would help with the down placed on top of the headdress during dancing: it could both help to keep it in place, but also let some of it out to fall around the dancers.
Another unique feature to this headdress is that the entire piece worn on the head was woven from cedar bark. Usually, it is just the sides of the headpiece that would be woven. Diane Brown admired the red cedar bark weaving of this headdress and commented that it would not be done like this today.
The flicker feathers decorating the headdress are valuable because the birds are rare, though found on Haida Gwaii, and also because their orange quills are a copper colour (coppers being objects of extreme prestige on Haida Gwaii).
The frame of the headdress is made from baleen lashed with sinew. Baleen can be obtained from humpback, fin or blue whales, all of which live in the waters surrounding Haida Gwaii.
The number of ermine skins added to the headdress would be the prerogative of the chief. Delegates noted that ermine were once on the verge of extinction of Haida Gwaii, but their numbers are again rising. [CAK 10/02/2010]

Categorization of this frontlet in the 'magic, witchcraft and shamanism' case is problematic; it was described by collector as 'one of two Chief's or medicine men's headdresses'. Haida chiefs are not necessarily shamans and there is no further documentation as to the use or ownership of this piece. Headdress frontlets are used to indicate lineage identity on ritual occasions. [Laura Peers, 07/10/2008]

Wright (2001: 125) provides the two Haida terms for the frontlets. This frontlet appears in her publication Northern Haida Master Carvers as Figure 3.13 on page 128. Wright identifies Albert Edward Edenshaw as the owner of the frontlet, but attributes it to an unknown artist. As Wright points out, and as is evident in Harrison's manuscript, when the Rev. Charles Harrison refers to Chief Edenshaw he is usually referring to Albert Edward Edenshaw. Albert Edward had the Haida name of gwaaygu 7anhlan until he took the name 7idansuu around 1840 (Wright 2001: 110). Robin Wright, Northern Haida Master Carvers (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2001) [Cara Krmpotich, 19/03/2009]

Description by Dr Erna Gunther, Washington State Museum, USA: 'Chief's headdress: the frontlet plaque is carved of yellow cedar or maple and represents a bear with a frog holding the tip of his tongue. The face has curled nostrils and a protruding red tongue. On a level with the mouth are two human hands with fingers folded downward and palms showing, inlaid with abalone. The elbows rest on drawn up knees, legs terminating in bears' paws facing inward. The ankle joint is inlaid with abalone. Between these is the figure of a frog, dorsal side, with oblong piece of abalone on back. The bear has erect ears inlaid with two pieces of abalone each. A border of abalone pieces, oblong [sic] frame the carving on the vertical sides. The crown is a piece of plaited cedar bark matting on a framework on [? of] small wooden staves. At the back of the crown is a piece of rawhide shaped like the tail fin of a whale which is a flap to help spread the eagles' down that is shaken out of the crown during a dance. The trailer is made of flour sacking and spread with strips of baleen. There are 4 rows of ermine, 7 to 8 to the row. On the crown there are small pieces of hide showing where there had been swansdown. Dimensions. Frontlet plaque: length = 19.7 cm; width = 18.8 cm. Sea lion whiskers: length = 30.7 cm. Trailer: length = 1' [?] 39 cm; width = 32 cm. This headdress is supposed to have belonged to Chief Edenshaw.' A piece of paper with this text was removed from accessions book. [JC 16 8 1996]

Primary Documentation

Accession book entry (for 1891.49.11 and .12): 'From Rev. Ch. Harrison, 80 Halton Rd., Canonbury Square. N. Collection of Haida objects collected by him.... - [One of] 2 Chief's or medicine men's headdresses, one of which belonged to Edenshaw. £45. [Purchase price includes 1891.49.1-110]

?Old Pitt Rivers Museum label - Old stitched-on label reads: 'CEREMONIAL HEAD-DRESS WHICH BELONGED TO THE CELEBRATED CHIEF EDENSHAW. HAIDA. C. HARRISON COLL. (MS NO. 13). PURCHASED 1891.' [JC 16 8 1996]

Related Documents File - 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]

Item History

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