A Tlingit pattern board
Lot 5178
A Tlingit pattern board
Sold for US$ 42,700 inc. premium

Native American Art

6 Jun 2011, 12:00 PDT

San Francisco

Lot Details
Property from the Muchnick Milliren Collection
A Tlingit pattern board A Tlingit pattern board
A Tlingit pattern board
Comprising a milled wood board banded at two ends, one side painted with black pigment in proscribed fashion as a guide for a Chilkat tunic weaver, the reverse when turned horizontally displaying a pattern for a traditional Chilkat blanket in brighter black paint.
length 40 1/2in, width 26 1/2in


  • Provenance:
    Purchased from Donald Ellis Gallery, Dundas, Ontario, June 1997; collected in the field in the 1970's by Howard Roloff from Mildred Sparks, Haynes, AK; Andy Warhol Collection, sold at Sotheby's, New York, NY, 28 April 1988, lot 2576, from the Arthur O. Wellman collection, CT; Sotheby's, New York, NY, 4 June 1997, lot 265; appeared in the exhibit Northwest Coast Indian Art Tradition: Collected Heritage, Grace Hudson Museum, Ukiah, CA, 6 September – 23 November 2003

    Pattern board, interesting design of whale with profile heads, some disjunction of formlines. This is an unusual design lacking the usual three-part division, due to the intrusion of the whale heads. The fluked tail appears at both sides of the center top, the central face represents the body and perhaps the blow-hole of the whale, and the two squared U forms above the head represent the pectoral fins. The formline figure at the lateral border can be interpreted in several ways, none with certainty. There is a robe of this design in the Rhode Island School of Design, and another one in the Taylor Museum, Colorado Springs. This blanket may now be elsewhere, as the museum sold its Northwest Coast objects some years ago.
    (and in regards to the reverse side)
    This is a very nice pattern board, nice bear design, well painted, 3 faces in body, 1 above each ear and one inverted between the ears. Very nice formlines. This pattern has been woven in a number of tunics, but in some of them, the bear's pelvis has been misinterpreted. The inverted face representing the pelvis has been turned upright and the cheeks made into upright ears. An example is figure 591b in George Emmons' "The Chilkat Blanket." This pattern board has all the details properly painted.
    - from a personal communication with Bill Holm

    Emily Moore (a graduate student of Ira Jacknis's at U.C. Berkeley) identified to us the tunic based on the pattern on the obverse on 18 June 2007 as undoubtedly the Royal British Columbia Museum's catalogue number 14506. The tunic is 104 cm (40.95 in) long and 59.8 cm (23.5 in) wide. It was collected in 1924 and acquired by the museum on 21 March 1974. The tunic is white, black, yellow, grey, green, brown, and turquoise, and includes wool, dyed and undyed, yellow cedar bark, worked land-mammal skin, and commercial thread. The museum's object record for it includes 20 thumbnail images of the front and back.
    - collectors' notes

    Chilkat Pattern Board
    Tlingit, c. 1840

    A pattern board is the beginning of a garment woven in what has come to be called 'Chilkat' style. Before the weaving itself is started, the design has to be composed and painted, in a single color, onto a pattern board, which usually depicts just over half of a horizontally oriented robe or dancing blanket design, or a vertical design for a woven tunic. The design and painting of the pattern board were traditionally done by a male artist trained in the tradition. Also prior to the weaving phase, the weaver herself must gather and laboriously prepare all the materials that will become the hand-worked and handspun yarns with which the weaving is executed. This phase of gathering and preparation is said to take as long or longer than the weaving itself. With yarns and pattern board prepared, the weaver then twines the individual rows and forms of the weaving, following and measuring from the particulars of the design painted on the pattern board, in order to reproduce the images as closely as possible.
    This pattern board may be unique in that the same piece of wood has been used to display two separate designs for weaving. On one side is the nearly complete design for a woven tunic. Only the rectangular face of one ear (in the proper top left corner of the design) has been left out of this painting. Some tunic-pattern paintings, like those of most if not all blanket or robe design patterns, only focus on just over half of the total design, since the weaver only needs to measure from one side of the symmetrical image, and from that can weave both sides of the complete design, each side a mirror image of the other. The bear-like image in this design pattern has been woven into more than one finished tunic, though there are several others woven with a closely related bear-like image. The related pattern exhibits five small square faces that span the width of the design between the head and body, and also differs in other small details. Both of these related designs show considerable similarity to the two-dimensional images painted and carved on a set of four houseposts from Klukwan village that are now in the University Museum, Philadelphia. Though these have the same kinds of bear-like images carved in their surface, the identity of the designs has been recorded as that of the 'Face-Upon-Face Monster', which illustrates the difficulty in accurately attributing design identities based solely on appearance. The composition and execution of the subject pattern board design are both of a very high level. The designer/painter of this pattern was well-versed and experienced in the Tlingit design tradition, and created a truly remarkable image that has been reproduced in more than one weaving.
    The other side of this pattern board displays the typical just-over-half of a design for a Chilkat robe. The design appears to represent a whale, with the head turned out in profile to each side across the bottom, and the flukes of the tail arranged across most of the top width. A small profile form of indeterminate identity is composed on each flank of the robe design. In some cases a run of several garments were woven from a single pattern board, or from painted copies of a single original board. In other instances there are surviving robes, usually early examples, with unique designs that don't appear in any other garments. This was probably the tradition's original intention, one board-one robe, but when more than one generation of the Native populace, including many knowledgeable artists, succumbed to the smallpox virus in the early 1860s, a shortage of skilled painters was made up for later by repeating certain design patterns in numerous woven robes.
    The details of this robe design suggest that it is the younger of the two images painted on this pattern board, and was applied by a different hand entirely. The characteristics of the tunic design indicate that it is an older composition, painted by a well-trained artist with real painting skills. The robe design shows a different level of familiarity with the art tradition, indicative of a design composed and executed in the later years of the nineteenth century. The tunic painting most likely dates to the some point in the first half of that century, when the conventions of the formline tradition remained at their full strength.

    Steven C. Brown
    April, 2011
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