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Horn spoon, S-shaped, with an orange-brown bowl & a dark brown handle carved with crest designs. [EC 'DCF 2004-2006 What's Upstairs?' 9/3/2006]

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

Horn spoon, S-shaped, with an orange-brown bowl & a dark brown handle carved with crest designs. The lighter colour bowl is made from mountain sheep horn. The darker colour handle is made from mountain goat horn. The handle is curved, carved, and fits over the top of the bowl. It is held in place with three nails. Just above the nails is a residue which may either be fish grease left over from use, or pitch as an adhesive, or a material added by the collector or museum. Where the handle meets the bowl, the handle measures 30 mm. It tapers toward the tip, which measures 4 mm. The handle is carved with figures representing (from bottom to top) a bear with a bear cub in its mouth, a crane or heron with a long beak pointing upwards, and a human figure wearing a hat. The human figure is identified as a man wearing a chief's hat, however, there may be a labret in this figure's bottom lip, indicating the figure is female, not male. There are also wing designs beneath the figure, extending under the long beak of the bird. The bowl is smooth and shows the grain of the horn. The middle section of the bowl creates a slight 'valley', i.e. there is an added curvature that creates a deeper central depression in the bowl. At its widest, the bowl measures 60 mm, and at its tip it measures 9 mm in width. [CAK 06/04/2009]

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). [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. Delegates identified this spoon as Haida. Gwaai Edenshaw, Jaalen Edenshaw and Nika Collison noted in particular the following features of the spoon as being distinctively Haida: the shape of the eyes and eyebrows, the body to head ratio of the figures, and the overall 'tension' of the piece (i.e. how the carver balanced the creatures across the curvature of the spoon.) In terms of the body to head ratio, Christian White clarified that Haida figures are 50 per cent body and 50 per cent head, whereas Tsimshian carvings, for example, are 60 per cent body and 40 percent head.
The materials were identified as mountain goat horn for the handle, female mountain sheep horn for the bowl (because it is the same colour as mountain sheep horn but is thinner), with copper rivets connecting the pieces. In terms of the iconography, delegates thought the nose and eyes of the animal at the top of the handle were unfinished. The tail feathers, wings and legs on the spoon made delegates wonder if the handle was showing a transformation. The bird at the top of the handle was thought to be a crane (more specifically, a sandbill crane) or a heron because of the long beak. The bear on the spoon was thought to be eating or carrying one of its cubs. One delegate wondered if there was a hummingbird depicted on this spoon. A PRM staff member asked if there were spoons like this in use on Haida Gwaii today and Gaahlaay (Lonnie Young) replied with a story of how his sister had a similar horn spoon and traded it for a vacuum cleaner!
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 18/03/2010]

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.

Written on object - [in red ink:] C. [in black ink:] Top - Man with chief's hat. 2 - Crane. 3 - Bear eating man. HAIDA E.B.T. coll. d.d. Lady Taylor, 1917.53.285 [EC 'DCF 2004-2006 What's Upstairs?' 9/3/2006]

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]

Related Documents File - Extract of a letter "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 - Description of spoon symbols - "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]

Item History

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