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Spoon made of mountain goat horn, dark brown with a greenish hue; handle carved with crest designs. [CAK 06/04/2009]

Display History

This object formed part of a loan to the Glenbow Museum, Calgary, for the exhibition 'The Spirit Sings' in 1987/88. [HR 05/01/2010]

Longer Description

Spoon made of mountain goat horn, dark brown with a greenish hue; handle carved with crest designs. The bowl is 26mm wide where it joins the handle, 60mm at is widest point and 20mm wide at its tip. The grain of the horn is visible on the bowl, which is smooth and thin. There is writing on the reverse of the bowl. The handle fits over the bowl and is kept in place by three nails. The handle is curved and tapers from its widest point where it joins the bowl (26mm) to 4mm at its tip. The handle is carved with crests and figures representing, from bottom to top, an upside down human in the mouth of a bear, a bear cub in between the ears of the bear, a cormorant, and a mountain goat on the top. [CAK 06/04/2009].

Primary Documentation

Accession Book Entry - COLLECTION of the late Sir Edward Burnett Tylor, D.C.L., F.R.S. Presented by LADY TYLOR, 1917. - [1 of] 5 horn spoons [1917.53.282 - .286] with elaborately carved handles, totemic designs, HAIDA, N.W. AMERICA. TSIMSYAN or TLINGIT.
Additional Accession Book Entry - See extract from letter of Marius Barbeau in back pocket [now in RDF]
Additional Accession Book Entry - 1917.53.282. No. given. LMC. Handle riveted to bowl. L = 280 mm; max W = 60 mm. Greenish.

Written on object - [in red ink:] B. [in black ink:] Raven gens. Top - Mountain goat. 2 - Cormorant. 3 - Wolf. 4 - Bear eating man. HAIDA E.B.T. coll. d.d. Lady Taylor, 1917. [in white ink:] 1917.53.282 [EC 'DCF 2004-2006 What's Upstairs?' 9/3/2006]

Related Documents File - Extract of a letter in RDF reads - "Extract from letter to Sir Francis Knowles from Marius Barbeau. Ottawa, June 1, 1943. In connection with your horn spoon, I can only say that these were made by the Tsimsyan - the Naskae of the Nass River, and the Tlingit; never the Haida. As the carvers made these spoons for the trade among themselves, and the strangers, they did not usually adhere to the crest symbol. The figures, however, are derived from their totems and familiar symbols. The bird above is either the thunderbird or the eagle, which were the crest of the Eagle phratry. The figure below is the grizzly bear, biting a frog. As the bear and the eagle are not closely related as crests, it is clear that the artist simply resorted to familiar figures without meaning them to be symbols of any one in particular." [But see further research note below by Cara Krmpotich [CAK 06/04/2009]]

Description of spoon symbols in RDF - "Spoons: A. Top. 1. Skáteñga. Bird with black feathers, red beak, white feet. 2. Wolf. 3. Bear. 4. Thunderbird, wings turned up at both sides of face. Raven gens [?sic]. B. Top. 1. Mountain goat. 2. Cormorant. 3. Wolf. 4. Bear devouring man. Raven gens. C. Top. 1. Man with chiefs hat. 2. Crane, wings folded under beak, feet over head, tail folded up towards head and curving from head. 3. Bear eating man..." [Although all five spoons have been numbered there are no individual descriptions given (except for .283-284 = D & E) so it is impossible to assign the above descriptions to a specific accession number.] [CF 24/4/2001]

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]

Research Notes

This object was shown at a meeting of the Oxford University Anthropology Society on 14.6.1917 when Balfour showed a series of objects [AP 27/02/2006]

In contrast to Marius Barbeau's letter [see RDF] stating that the Haida did not make horn spoons, the following accounts indicate Haidas have been using and making horn spoons for a significant amount of time. George MacDonald discusses Haida horn spoons in his book Haida Art (1996, Douglas & McIntyre, Toronto; Canadian Museum of Civilization, Hull). On page 37, he notes the presence of horn spoons in archaeological excavations of midden sites dating to 3000 BP and 4000 BP at Musqueam and Prince Rupert on the southern and northern mainland of British Columbia respectively. Although no spoons have been found in prehistoric Haida sites, MacDonald (page 37) proposes “it is likely that they [Haidas] acquired such spoons very early from mainland groups as part of the intertribal potlatch system.” He continues, “Individual horn spoons were the most elaborately decorated items at a feast. The bowl of the spoon was made from cream-coloured mountain sheep horn, steamed and bent in a mould. The curved handles were made from black mountain goat horn that provided a field for artistic display second only to that of totem poles.” Illustrated on pages 38-9 are three Haida horn spoons that depict the family crests found on the owner's house poles. Three additional spoons are illustrated on pages 40-1. Additional examples of Haida horn spoons are discussed and illustrated in Robin Wright's Northern Haida Master Carvers (2001, Douglas & McIntyre, Vancouver/Toronto; University of Washington Press, Seattle) on pages 24, 59; pages 49, 147 and 160 of The Legacy by Peter Macnair, Alan Hoover and Kevin Neary (1984, Douglas & McIntyre, Vancouver/Toronto; University of Washington Press, Seattle); and on page 86 of the catalogue Raven Travelling: Two centuries of Haida Art (2006, Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver; Douglas & McIntyre, Vancouver/Toronto; University of Washington Press, Seattle). [Cara Krmpotich 27/03/2009]

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 spoon was viewed alongside other horn and wood spoons on Wednesday Sept 9, 2009. It's Haida attribution was unanimously supported by delegates. Gwaai Edenshaw, Jaalen Edenshaw and Nika Collison noted the elongated shapes of the eyes and eyebrows, the head to body ratio for the carved figures, and the 'tension' of the piece (i.e. how the carver balanced the creatures across the curvature of the spoon), as characteristically Haida. This spoon was said to depict the bear mother story in which a bear kidnaps a princess and has two children by her. (See also the research notes on Star House pole for a fuller version of this story.) There is a bear cub roughly half way down the handle and a bear eating a man. The mountain goat figure at the top of the handle was thought to be in mid-transformation. Given the figures on the spoon, delegates thought this spoon would have been owned by a Raven person. In response to this spoon, Diane Brown recalled a time when spoons such as these would be used everyday, and when everything would be carved. Such a high degree of decoration would be found on functional items; such things would not just be used as ornaments. Diane further added that goat horn is not carved as much today because as a raw material it is more precious today. The copper metal used on this spoon was referred to as a metal of wealth. Handles would be riveted to spoons using copper because it indicated the owner's wealth.
In response to horn spoons more generally, delegates made a number of comments on their construction, use and related information. It was noted that when the bowl of the spoon and handle sections are joined, each part is often made from different types of horn. The bowl of the spoon tends to be made from mountain sheep horn and the handle from mountain goat horn. The greenish hue on some of the horn spoons received interest. It was proposed that the discolouration of the darker mountain goat horn to a green hue could be the result of UV damage. The copper used to repair or join parts of spoons also received a lot of interest. Haidas noted that copper is a sign of wealth and thus would be used on spoons of wealth. Replacement rivets were identified as being made of a copper alloy such as brass, and signs of copper corrosion were identified. The irregular shape of a number of the bowls of spoons was likely a factor of being placed in too hot of a soup. The scoop can lose its shape if overheated. At the same time, the scoop can be re-formed using the same techniques as when it was first made. Goat horn spoons were traded between nations in the Pacific Northwest. And European traders first arriving in the region observed blankets woven from mountain goat fur. [CAK 16/03/2010]

Item History

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