Charles Edenshaw (Dax’igaang or Taheygen) (1839-1920), is widely regarded as the great master of Haida carvers. Born to a longstanding family of artists, Edenshaw introduced an innovative style, while adhering to basic principles of classic Haida carving. In the words of Bill Holm, Edenshaw’s work in the latter part of the 19th century into the early 20th century: “ ... exemplifies the work of a highly competent, imaginative artist with absolute mastery of the tradition in which he worked, and who had developed a very personal version of that tradition (see: Holm 1981, pg. 182). It is believed that the young Edenshaw received at least some of his training from his maternal uncle, Albert Edenshaw, an artist of wide renown who passed away in 1894. Edenshaw’s masterful, innovative work was widely sought by anthropologists and museum collectors of the day, including Franz Boaz, Charles Newcombe and John R. Swanton (see: Macdonald 1996, pg. 219).
The late 19th century was a time of great change among the Haida, with ancient traditions under considerable pressure from the outside world. The first resident missionaries had arrived to convert the local population, the potlatch was outlawed, and the production of art for ceremonial purposes was supplanted by production for the outside market. Edenshaw, together with other Haida artists of his day, responded to the new commercial demand for Haida works of art. As testimony to Edenshaw’s great accomplishment as an artist, he is reported to have supported his family exclusively through his artistic pursuits, without the need to supplement his income by hunting and fishing (see: Wright 2001, pg. 233). Edenshaw’s work is highly sought after today, and is represented in most major museum collections of Native American art.