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Fine figural headdress finial with abalone shell eyes and forward teeth - Donald Ellis Gallery

Headdress Finial

Southeast Alaska

ca. 1840-60

wood, abalone shell, pigment, hair

height: 9"

Inventory # N3596



Donald Ellis Gallery catalogue, 2010, pgs. 2-3


Collins, Henry B. De Laguna, Frederica. Carpenter, Edmund. Stone, Peter. The Far North: 2000 Years of Eskimo and Indian Art. Washington: National Gallery of Art, 1973, pgs. 202 and 204, pls. 255 and 256

Small carvings representing the dorsal fin of a killer whale, or orca, were made to fit into the top of carved wooden hats fashioned in the form of woven spruce root hats (see example here). Carved by the hand of a masterful traditional artist, this elegant finial when standing erect, would be elevated above the heads of a gathering, making visible the identifying symbol of the family crest of the owner. The inlay of iridescent abalone shell in the eyes and forward teeth enabled the carving to catch and reflect the firelight of a ceremonial house as well as the sunlight of an outdoor gathering. The long wisps of hair attached to the back edge of these finials was often the hair of a respected female relative, thus bringing additional status and honor to this venerable object.

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