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FFinely carved and painted clapper showing transformational imagery - Donald Ellis Gallery


Northern British Columbia

ca. 1840-1860

wood, paint, fibre

width: 10 ¼"

Inventory # N2978-17



acquired by the Scottish Reverend Robert J. Dundas from Anglican lay minister William Duncan in 1863 at the village of Metlakatla, British Columbia
by descent in the family
Simon Carey, London, England
Sotheby’s New York, Oct 5, 2006, lot 16Cl

The present clapper was acquired by the Scottish Reverend Robert J. Dundas from the English lay missionary William Duncan on a trip to Canada in 1863. In 1862, Duncan had established a model Church of England mission at Old Metlakatla, an abandoned settlement near Prince Rupert, B.C. Dundas acquired almost 80 objects from Duncan, including crest helmets, rattles and antler clubs which remained in the Dundas family for several generations.

Clappers, like rattles, are made of two pieces of hard wood, each hollowed out until quite thin in order to amplify the resonance of the instruments. Instead of using percussive elements such as small pebbles, glass beads, or lead shot on the inside like a rattle, each side of a clapper is thinly carved in the handle area behind the hollowed sculptural image. A much thicker grip section is left at the end of the handle, where the two sides of the instrument are bound together. This enables the two halves of the clapper to vibrate against each other as the instrument is rapidly shaken, creating a "clapping" sound. Clappers are also generally smaller and narrower than most rattles, such as the well-known raven rattle, or other related types of bird rattles. The clapper tradition appears to have a long history, judging by the existence of some early examples that most likely date from the eighteenth century (see Holm, 1984, Box of Daylight, pg. 29, fig. 21, which was identified at that time as Tlingit, and early nineteenth century). Other known clappers appear to date from the first half of the nineteenth century, between about 1820 and 1850, based on the styles of carving and design with which they were made. (See Brown, 1998, pg. 87, fig. 4.42, and Brown, 1995, pg. 166, fig. 62).

Likely an orca whale, this clapper once had a tall dorsal fin with a small face carved at the base, which was still present as recently as the late 1970s. A combination of red and black primary formlines is seen here, an unusual feature, as artists would more commonly compose the primary formline elements in either one colour or the other, but rarely both. It appears that this animated sea mammal has seen the firelight of many ceremonies, and has been shaken by more than one generation of MitLa dancers.