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Horn spoon depicting a whale, thunderbird, frog, Raven transforming and human with fin or fin-shaped hat. [CAK 25/05/2010]

Longer Description

Horn spoon depicting a whale, thunderbird, frog, Raven transforming and human with fin or fin-shaped hat. The bowl of the spoon is steamed and moulded from mountain sheep horn. It is smooth and plainly finished. It is riveted to the handle with three pieces of copper. The handle is made from mountain goat horn. It is curved and intricately carved with a series of figures. At the base of the handle, overhanging the bowl in the front is a small whale with large round eyes and a short fin between the claws of a thunderbird with elaborate wings and feathers than extend further down the back of the handle. The thunderbird has a large head with a crooked nose and high forehead. Between the ears of the thunderbird is a frog facing downwards with a fin on its back. Above the frog is a human body with raven head. Sitting atop the raven head is a human figure with a fin on its head, or a fin-shaped hat. [CAK 26/05/2010]

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]

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 - 1917.53.283-286. Nos. given. LMC. L = 270-290 mm. Handles riveted on.

Pitt Rivers Museum display label - "Horn Spoons. Possibly Tsimshian or Tlingit. Fine spoons such as these were used for eating oolichan fish grease and berries at feasts and potlatches. The bowls are made from mountain sheep horn, the handles from mountain goat horn. The emblems carved on the handles record the history of the owner's family and lineage. The emblems here are: (at left, from the top down) Man with chief's hat (Watchman), Raven assuming woman's shape, Whale and Thunderbird carrying Whale; (at right, from the top down) Whale in human form, Human head with the fin of Killer Whale and Raven. The last figure is unidentified. Collected by Sir E. B. Tylor, and donated by Lady Tylor in 1917. (1917.53.284, 1917.53.283)"

Old Pitt Rivers Museum label - [The display label refers to two spoons (.283-284) and it is unclear which spoon has which symbols.] [CF 24/4/2001]

Written on object - HAIDA, E.B.T. coll. d.d. Lady Tylor, 1917. Top - Man with chief's hat. 2 - Raven assuming woman's shape. 3 - Whale. 4 - Thunder-bird carrying whale. Eagle ?gens. [JFK 10/09/2009]

Related Documents File - Description of spoon symbols - "Spoons: ...... D. Top. 1. Man with chiefs hat. 2. Woman with raven's head. (Raven assuming the shape of a woman). 3. Whale, tail turned under belly, holding 4. Thunderbird which carries whale, whose tail turned over its back. Belonging to Eagle gens.E. Top. 1. Whale in shape of man. Fins above head. Mouth. 2. Between its legs human head with head ornament imitating killer. 3. Raven. 4. [blank] "

Related Documents File - Extract of a letter from Marius Barbeau 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."

Related Documents File - Discussion of this spoon can be viewed on Tape 9, time 17:18 within the Haida Project 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 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). [CAK 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”:
Haida delegates saw this spoon in its case during their visit and asked to see it specifically because they suspected it was Haida, not Tsimshian or Tlingit as described on the label. Jaalen Edenshaw, Gwaai Edenshaw, Ruth Gladstone-Davies and Christian White all identified this spoon as Haida. Jaalen and Gwaai Edenshaw noted that this spoon and 1917.53.284 were the best spoons in our collection and were masterpieces of Haida artwork. The detail in the carving was particularly noteworthy. Christian White thought this spoon could have been made by the same person who made 1917.53.284. The handle was identified as being made from mountain goat horn, while the bowl was identified as mountain sheep horn.
Gwaai Edenshaw commented that in general, when carving faces within the Haida style, you should be able to see as much of the eye from the side as you do from the front. He suspected there were even finer examples than this, although he did consider this a masterpiece. He noted however that some of the grooves had a jagged finish to them. He said he could not say whether this was made for personal use or trade.
Christian identified the figures as a thunderbird with a pilot whale (also called a black fish or false killer whale), a half-frog half-whale figure, Raven transforming, and a man with a fin on his head. The thunderbird figure displayed typical Haida design principles in the high forehead and large eyes according to Christian. The frog figure appeared to have a long snout to some delegates, indicating it is a deep-sea frog, or alternatively it was thought it might be a tcamoos (a snag). It was reported that contemporary carver Robert Davidson has been influenced by historic depictions of deep sea frogs. Delegates wondered if the spoon depicted a whale transforming, or some kind of sea monster with a raven with a human body. It was observed that all of the crests appearing on this spoon are those used by Diane Brown's clan, Ts'aahl. Many double lines have been incorporated into the carving of the spoon and there is an unconventional use of negative space without positive space in the carved out areas (approximately three to four centimetres from the base of the handle, on both sides of the spoon). The eye sockets were said to be very deeply carved. Between one set of eyebrows, the horn is un-etched: a featured that lead delegates to wonder if it was unfinished, or if this was a stylistic signature.
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.
Discussion of this spoon can be seen on Tape 9, time 17:18, which can be found in the Haida Project Related Documents File. [CAK 16/03/2010]

Item History

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