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Classic design composition combining finely executed painting and precise relief carving | Donald Ellis Gallery
Side view of an exceptional lidded bentwood box with painted design elements | Donald Ellis Gallery

Bent Corner Chest

Haida or Tsimshian
Northern British Columbia

ca. 1850

wood, paint

width: 33 ¾"

Inventory # N3274

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Northwest Coast bent corner containers employ a remarkable form of construction developed in a time before the introduction of European technology. The sides are manufactured from a single plank of wood that has been tooled with an adze until smooth and flat. Fine grooves are then cut across the grain at the location of the three corners, and a rabbet joint is cut at one end. The plank is steamed to soften the wood fibers and then bent at the grooves. The plank ends are either sewn with root fiber or fastened with wooden pegs.

Large painted and carved chests were used to store and protect ceremonial objects and hereditary dance regalia of family lineage chiefs. The masks, rattles, carved headgear and woven or painted robes contained in these chests were brought into public view on important ritual occasions. Large chests also served as regal seating for house and lineage chiefs, and other important guests at feasts and potlatches.

While the designs on the front and back of this chest generally conform to traditional styles, the artist has employed a great deal of imagination in the formation of the design structures. This work is combined with finely executed painting and precise relief carving. The mastery of form and composition evident on this impressive carved chest clearly indicates the hand of a skilled and influential artist.