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Visually striking dagger featuring the face of an emaciated shaman - Donald Ellis Gallery

Emaciated Shaman Dagger

attributed to Saayina.aat, Lukaax.adi, Chilkat
Southern Alaska

ca. 1750

steel, copper, leather, red wool stroud, human hair

height: 18 ½"
width: 4"

Inventory # N1876


acquired by the Diker Collection, now at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY


Reportedly collected by Dr. Shattuck in Alaska. Dr. Shattuck was apparently born in the 1890's.
Private collection, Denver, CO


Donald Ellis Gallery catalogue, 1999, cover and pgs. 12-13
Bernstein, Bruce and McMaster, Gerald (eds). First American Art: The Charles and Valerie Diker Collection of American Indian Art. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2004, pg. 221
Indigenous Beauty: Masterworks of American Indian Art from the Diker Collection, David Penney et al., New York, NY, Skira Rizzoli, 2015, pg. 46


Seattle Art Museum, No. 91.1.75 - See: The Spirit Within, Brown, University of WA Press, 1995, pl. 7.

Seattle Art Museum, No. 85.358 - See: Ibid, pl. 6

Peabody Museum, Harvard, University, - See: Soft Gold, Holm, Oregon Historical Society Press, pls. 32, 34 and 36 for other examples of early, double bladed Tlingit steel daggers

This spectacular, early dagger is almost certainly the prototype of a later steel dagger now in the collection of the Seattle Art Museum. Intriguing parallels can be drawn between these two "emaciated shaman" daggers, and the Orca whale dagger in the Seattle Art Museum. The Orca appears also to be a copy of an earlier prototype which recently surfaced in Brussels, Belgium, and is now in a private collection in New York. The reason for the creation of the later daggers remains a mystery. However, in both instances, the earlier works exude a power and strength of purpose far exceeding their later progeny.

In the world of Tlingit art, one encounters artistic traditions of such antiquity, that individual art works were required to be reproduced over time. Numerous situations have motivated the making of new artworks in succession; age and condition of original objects, the expansion and division of clan lines and house groups, and loss or damage through fire or warfare.

This remarkable steel dagger has an apparently later counterpart, now in the Seattle Art Museum (see: Brown, Sreven C, The Spirit Within, New York, Rizzoli, 1995, pl. 7). The Ixt'i Xook Gwalaa, or Emaciated Shaman dagger now in Seattle, appears to be a more recent version of the impressive weapon seen here. This is evidenced in part, by a more traditional approach to the formation of the representational images. The native oral history of the Seattle dagger was first recorded by Holmberg in 1854 (Holmberg, H.J, Ethnograpische Skizzen uber die Volker des Russischen America, Helsingfors, 1856, 28). It was said to have been made by a woman ironsmith, Saayina.aat of the Chilkat Tlingit.

Intriguing parallels can be drawn between these two Emaciated Shaman daggers and the Dakl'aweidi Orca dagger formerly in the Seattle Art Museum (see: Brown 1995, pl. 6). This Orca Dagger is now acknowledged to be a 19th century copy of an earlier prototype sold by Donald Ellis Gallery in 1999. (see: Fundacion "la Caixa", Espiritus Del Aqua: Arte de Alaska y la Columbia Britanica, Barcelona, 1999, pl. 190)

A strong resemblance, both of style and technique, is observed between the earlier versions of the weapons discussed here. Though all four daggers convey imagery with a certain level of refinement and power, the older versions do so with more traditional form and force.

The Native oral history of both the Orca and Emaciated Shaman daggers relates that the material from which these two weapons were made "fell from the sky", indicating a meteoric origin. The later version of the Orca dagger has been scientifically tested and judged not to be of meteoric iron. Perhaps it is the original version of that weapon that the oral history describes. Were both of these prototypes made from the same meteor by Saayina.aat and the two replicas made by different artists at different times? We may never know the full history of this remarkable and noble creation.

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