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Fine mountain sheep horn ladle carved with an avian head - Donald Ellis Gallery


Northern British Columbia

ca. 1840-1860

mountain sheep horn

height: 10 ¾"

Inventory # N2978-18


acquired by the Canadian Museum of Civilization, Hull, PQ


acquired by the Scottish Reverend Robert J. Dundas from Anglican lay minister William Duncan in 1863 at the village of Metlakatla, BC
by descent in the family
Simon Carey, London, United Kingdom
Sotheby’s New York, Oct 5, 2006, lot 30

The present ladle 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.

Horn spoons, ladles, and bowls are remarkable objects, illustrating a mastery of this pliant but relatively unforgiving material. The horn must be soaked to work it, as it is brittle and hard when dry. When the moisture is replaced, however, it carves with an adze or knife more readily. Once the rough outer layers of the sheep horn are adzed off, and the basic blocked form of the ladle or bowl is achieved, the material is boiled to further soften and limber it up. At this point, it can be opened out considerably wider than the original horn, which also causes the tip of the ladle to curl more abruptly upward. Held in its new shape by being lashed to a large oval rock or wooden form, the horn is allowed to thoroughly cool for a day or more. Once fully dry, the horn will hold its new shape indefinitely. At that point, the relief carving of the handle and any surface areas is executed.

This ladle features a very traditional bird’s head at the end of the handle, whose long tapering beak suggests a raven. The design is composed with a master’s understanding of the ancient design system, and is finely engraved as well. The hard angle cut at the juncture of the bowl and the handle is not a common feature of horn ladles, which usually have a smoothly tapered transition from the bowl to the handle. The shape of the bowl also differs from the more traditional shape seen in most wooden spoons and more refined horn spoons and ladles.

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