An exceptional Northwest Coast staff

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Lot 75
An exceptional Northwest Coast staff

Sold for US$ 60,075 inc. premium

Native American Art

31 Aug 2020, 11:00 PDT

Los Angeles

Property of Various Owners, lots 72-76
An exceptional Northwest Coast staff
Haida or Tlingit, carved in the round from a single piece of wood, a whorled column crowned by a potlatch ring rising above the wedge-shaped shaman's hat of the otherwise unclothed principal figure, a lengthy paddle held in front of the attenuated body and continuing down the spiral-carved shaft, the tip of the blade above three inset panels comprising a pair of relief-carved figures flanking an undecorated third, the staff terminating with a stout squatting human figure, perched over a bulbous tip; along the back of the staff a tapering spatulate form emerges from beneath the buttocks of the upper figure and descends down the length of the shaft, forking and curving to form the rear of the bottom figure.
length 64 1/8in, greatest width 3 1/4in

Footnotes

  • See: Brown, Steven C., editor, Spirits of the Water, 2000, University of Washington Press, Seattle, WA, p.171, Fig.135, for a Heiltsuk or Haida chief's staff, collected in 1864, that is similarly conceived with the uppermost figure wearing a spruce-root hat that extends far upward like a giant stack of nobility or potlatch rings: "Staffs were tapped against the ground by chiefs (or often their speakers) to emphasize their words or to mark or accentuate the rhythms of songs and dances." Ibid. p.170. The depiction in the present lot of headgear not associated with chiefly status would suggest that the staff may have served a different purpose. See Wardwell, Allen, Tangible Visions: Northwest Coast Indian Shamanism and Its Art, 1996, Monacelli Press, New York, NY, p.228, No. 337, for a staff in the collection of the American Museum of Natural History, New York, (16/942), where the topmost of two figures is shown wearing a similar hat.

    The spiral whorls of the central shaft appear to reference the tusk of the narwhal. A house pole at the Canadian Museum of History, Gatineau, Que, (CMC VII-B-1797a&b) which originally stood in the interior of Easy to Enter House in the village of Tanu, Haida Gwaii, has attached to it a unique talking stick shaped like a narwhal tusk inlaid with abalone shell; this can be seen protruding prominently from the forehead of the lowest of two Sea Wolf figures: https://www.historymuseum.ca/cmc/exhibitions/aborig/haida/images/hvtan04b.jpg

    Provenance
    Acquired from a Stockholm antique dealer circa 1970. Per the present owner's recollection: "When I bought the staff, fifty years ago there was an old paper label attached to it, that was falling apart, so I copied the text. The text (in Swedish) says that the item had been bought in 1890 from a certain A. A. Aronson in Victoria. Unfortunately, the antique dealer gave no further information. He didn't know what he sold, nor did I."

    British-born A.A. Aaronson was one of a group of Victoria B.C. merchants active in the Native curio trade in the late 19th and early 20th century, having sold artifacts to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, the Ottawa Field Museum, and the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. See Cole, Douglas, Captured Heritage: The Scramble for Northwest Coast Artifacts, 1985, University of Washington Press, Seattle, WA, for a detailed history of this period.
Contacts
An exceptional Northwest Coast staff
An exceptional Northwest Coast staff
An exceptional Northwest Coast staff
An exceptional Northwest Coast staff
An exceptional Northwest Coast staff
An exceptional Northwest Coast staff
An exceptional Northwest Coast staff
An exceptional Northwest Coast staff
An exceptional Northwest Coast staff
An exceptional Northwest Coast staff
An exceptional Northwest Coast staff
An exceptional Northwest Coast staff
An exceptional Northwest Coast staff
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