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Painted bentwood chief's chest with shell inlay aling the rim of the lid - Donald Ellis Gallery
Side view of a painted Haida or Tsimshian chief's chest inlaid with opercula shells - Donald Ellis Gallery

Chief's Chest

Haida or Tsimshian
Northern British Columbia

mid 19th century

wood, paint, opercula shells

height: 17 ¾"
width: 32 ¾ "
length: 18"

Inventory # CN3616



Morton and Estelle Sosland Collection, Kansas City, MO


Donald Ellis Gallery catalogue, 1999, pg. 23, now in the Museum Fur Volkerkunde, Munich, Germany

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.