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Tapered and asymmetrically painted wooden blanket chest - Donald Ellis Gallery
Diagonal view of a painted wooden blanket chest - Donald Ellis Gallery
Short side of a wooden blanket chest painted with formline elements - Donald Ellis Gallery
Short side of a wooden Heiltsuk blanket chest painted with unusual formline elements - Donald Ellis Gallery
High angle view of a wooden Heiltsuk blanket chest showcasing painted designs - Donald Ellis Gallery

Blanket Chest

attributed to Du’klwayella (Captain Richard Carpenter), 1841-1931
Central Coast, British Columbia

ca. 1900

wood, paint, cord and metal

height: 6 ½"
width: 52"
length: 10 ½"

Inventory # N4398


acquired by the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, ON


Alaska on Madison, New York, NY
Private collection, British Columbia


For the only other known example of this type of chest by Captain Carpenter - See: Sotheby’s, New York, June 12, 1992, Lot 229.

This chest is now in the collection of the University of British Columbia Museum of Anthropology, Cat. no. Nb3.1444 - See: McClelland Bill and Duffek, Karen. The Transforming Image: Painted Arts of the Northwest Coast First Nations Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2000 pg. 237.

For an extensive discussion of the artist and his work see the above publication pgs. 220-241.

For another discussion on the artist's work see: Black, Martha. Bella Bella: A Season of Heiltsuk Art. Toronto: Royal Ontario Museum / Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 1997, pgs. 110-113.

Purpose-made containers for holding Chilkat robes are unknown on the Northwest Coast, except for the possibility of this and one other unusual box by the same Heiltsuk artist, commonly known as Captain Carpenter. A prolific artist, Carpenter’s career spanned the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, during which time he produced a great number of painted and carved chests and boxes, as well as various types of sculpture, for which he is well known and highly respected. Heiltsuk artists did not weave robes in Chilkat style, but would have acquired them via direct or indirect trade with northern coastal groups.

This container, tapered at one end, is reminiscent of a coffin form, though for its length the shoulder area is too narrow to function well for that purpose. At fifty-two inches long, though, the box is perfectly shaped to contain a Chilkat robe rolled up lengthwise, from side to side. This is the only way to roll such a robe without damaging the warp yarns, which are stiffened with the addition of yellow cedar bark fibers. Once rolled up, the bulk of the robe would be where the weft yarns of the design area give it greater thickness, and the loose ends of the warp yarns that hang below the design, much less bulky, would fit perfectly in the narrow end of the box.

The crowned lid of the box, which fits down over the box sides, is of a type that is often seen on boxes intended for outdoor use (tool boxes, fishing equipment). The minimal flat area in the center of the lid, the angled edges, and the outside lip facilitate the ample coastal rain not puddling on the lid and running down the outside of the box, therefore keeping the contents dry. Traditional flat box tops (see Lot 75) have the lip fitted down the inner edge of the sides, which would enable water to move by capillary action beneath the lid and down into the container. With curving sides and a graceful taper, this lid has a dynamic shape uncommon among related boxes of this practical type.

The paintings on the sides of the box are executed in Carpenter’s signature style, recognized by very thin black formlines, broad negative areas, very thin red formlines, and extremely small inner ovoids and eye forms. The interior of the box is painted in the classic blue-green color of the northern coast, derived from native compounds and reserved for use on the most high-status of objects.

Steven C. Brown