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Needle Case

Western Alaska

1200 - 1700 CE

marine mammal ivory, iron pyrite

height: 3 ½"

Inventory # CE4284

Please contact the gallery for more information.


Donald Ellis Gallery, Dundas, ON
Private collection, Toronto, ON


Donald Ellis Gallery catalogue, Toronto, 2011, pg. 33


Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution - Cat. Nos. 48568, 48650,33214,33698,176230 and 43792 – See: William Fitzhugh and Susan Kaplan, Inua: Spirit World of the Bering Sea Eskimo, Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1982, pg. 134, figs. 147 and 148

Artists from all periods of Inuit art incorporated the human form into the design of utilitarian objects. In the case of the present needle case, the form of the entire figure is modified in order to better accommodate its function as a receptacle for sewing needles.   The implements would have been inserted through a hole on top of the head, protected by an elongated torso and legs closely placed together. The eyes, nostrils, mouth, nipples, and belly button are further filled with iron pyrite. This, alongside both hands resting on the belly, might suggest that the present figure and the particular implement it once held might have held some spiritual or other significance. The needle case shown here may suggest a conscious link between sewing and the individuals who performed this important work. However, in the absence of written or oral records such interpretations remain speculative.