A Tlingit bird effigy bowl
Lot 5177
A Tlingit bird effigy bowl
Sold for US$ 158,000 inc. premium

Native American Art

6 Jun 2011, 12:00 PDT

San Francisco

Lot Details
Property from the Muchnick Milliren Collection
A Tlingit bird effigy bowl A Tlingit bird effigy bowl
A Tlingit bird effigy bowl
Carved in bold relief in the depiction of a raptor, its beak and wings projecting strongly, the tail feathers jutting from a second totemic face, remaining outer surfaces filled with traditional formline decorations, vegetal fiber sewing strands used to close two corners and to affix the top to a rectangular base, heavy oily patina of use.
height 5 5/8in, length 9 3/4in, width 9in


  • Provenance:
    Given to the Oregon Historical Society around 1900, reportedly collected in the mid 1800's by Captain Daniel O'Neil, a brother of the former mayor of Portland; deaccessioned by the Society in the 1950's; a private collection; purchased from Arthur W. Erickson, Inc., Portland, OR, February 2000; appeared in the exhibit Northwest Coast Indian Art Tradition: Collected Heritage, Grace Hudson Museum, Ukiah, CA, 6 September – 23 November 2003

    This is a great, early bent-corner bowl, most likely Tlingit, and maybe from the early 19th, or perhaps the 18th century. Who knows? Maybe even earlier. The bowl is carved in standard bent-corner bowl form, with the addition of face, wings and tail of a bird brought out in 3 dimensional form. The rest of the body parts are represented in highly abstracted formline design. The bird's tail protrudes from the face on the rear, the eyes of which probably represent the hip joints. I don't understand why there are two sets of claws, one pair paralleling the rear corners and the other pair extending up to the front corners. The corner kerfs, one of which is broken through and repaired appear to be complex, although they don't all show in the pictures. The joined corner is sewn, as is the bottom. As is typical, the joined corner is on a rear corner. The wood may be alder or maple, but the bottom appears to be red cedar, which is characteristic of these bowls. The thick bottom is hollowed out above, and carved in deep grooves on the bottom to protect the sewing from wear. Fairly roughly carved, but very old. It's deeply saturated with oil, which oozes out near the corners where the carving slices through the end grains. Bird species unknown, but may be an owl??
    - from a personal communication with Bill Holm

    Bentwood Grease Bowl

    Tlingit, c. 1780, attributed to Kadjisdu.axch, maker of the Chief Shakes and Whale House houseposts.

    Bent-corner bowls are one of the great inspirations of Northwest Coast technology. To create a deep voluminous bowl with an undercut rim from a flat (albeit fairly thick) plank is pure genius. Though the bulging sides of such a bowl require a good deal of shaping and hollowing before the plank is steamed, bent, and formed into a container, it's nowhere near the volume of shaping and hollowing called for in a bowl of the same size carved from a single block of wood. As the parent plank is bent at three of the corners, the ends come together to make the fourth, and are either sewn with root to fasten them (if the vessel is an early example like the subject bowl), or pegged with wood, which is most often seen in later containers. The bottom of such a bowl is almost always made of red cedar, regardless of the kind of wood from which the sides are made, due to red cedar's comparative dimensional stability. The bottom is most often fastened on by sewing in older bowls, as is the bottom on the subject example, or with wooden pegs in 19th century vessels.
    Most bent-corner bowls, even the bulgiest examples, have sides composed of simple domed surfaces, often decorated with two-dimensional formline designs. Certain examples go a bit farther to include a sculptured head on one or both ends, with the creature's body parts represented in two-dimensional designs on the sides of the bowl. This extraordinary vessel incorporates the head, wings, and tail of the eagle subject into the sculpture of all four sides. Only a comparative handful of examples employ this advanced technique, which calls for the artist to largely sculpt each of these features before the plank is steamed and bent. Final refinements of the more delicate parts of the sculpture would be done after the sides were enclosed and the bottom fastened on.
    The style of the carving and two-dimensional design work on this bowl indicates the hand of one of the most celebrated Tlingit artists of the historic period, whose name was Kadjisdu.axch II. Best known for the creation of two sets of the most iconic houseposts on the Northwest Coast, those of the Chief Shakes Dogfish House of Wrangell, Alaska, and the Whale House of Klukwan, Alaska, Kadjisdu.axch was also a carver of clan hats, rattles, grease dishes, and at least four bent-corner bowls including this masterful example. One of these, representing a killer whale, is in the Burke Museum, Seattle, and is illustrated in Spirit and Ancestor, page 175. That bowl is slightly larger than the subject example. One representing a raven is in the Phoebe Hearst Museum, Berkeley, is slightly smaller than the subject bowl, and has not been published. All of these examples share certain subtle traits of personal design style that can also be noted in the work in the two housepost sets by this renowned artist. These three examples plus a fourth (of unknown location) all incorporate the body parts of the subject image into the sculpture of the bowl sides in the manner of the subject vessel.
    The head and brow of the eagle in this bowl, situated on the end opposite the joined or fourth corner (a traditional characteristic), extends beyond the expected limit of the bowl's volume, and the downturned eagle's beak extends well beyond the limit of the brow feature. On each side of the bowl, the eagle's wings curve outward and sweep back to the end of the bowl. On the rear of the bowl, adjacent to the sewn corner, a shallow face is carved that spans the end of the container. From the mouth of this image the tail feathers of the eagle protrude straight back, looking at first glance like a protruding tongue. Masterful use of formline elements characterizes the distribution of two-dimensional design work over the undulating surfaces of the bowl and the various eagle's body parts.

    Steven C. Brown
    April, 2011
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