Thursday, June 16, 2011

A small totem pole

By Eva Fognell, Curator of the Eugene and Clare Thaw Collection of American Indian Art

Fenimore Art Museum recently received a small argillite totem pole from a generous donor in Princeton, New Jersey. It is a charming little carving about 6.25” tall. It was made by a Haida artist in the late 1800s. The Haida people live on Haida Gwaii, formerly known as Queen Charlotte Island, off the coast of British Columbia. Haida people started making bowls, plates, small totem poles and other types of souvenirs in argillite in the mid 1800s. Argillite is soft when first quarried but later hardens over time.

Julie, a CGP graduate student, spent some time researching the pole and trying to determine what animals were carved on its front. It turned out to be quite tricky since she could not find a photo of a pole with any exact match to the figures on our pole. We finally settled on what we think the images are starting from the bottom: a small human crouching, then an eagle, bear, killer whale, and then an eagle on top. If anyone out there is well versed in Haida traditional stories and knows if this pole has a story please let me know. In the meantime we will continue searching for more information about our new acquisition.

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