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Superbly carved and painted wooden shaman figure with strands of human hair - Donald Ellis Gallery

Shaman Figure

Northern British Columbia

ca. 1830-60

wood, paint, human hair

width: 7 ¼"

Inventory # N2978-12



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, United Kingdom
Sotheby’s New York, Oct 5, 2006, lot 20

The present shaman's figure 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.

This figure, which is much smaller than the crouching human image from the same collection, was carved in a more basic, less refined style that has a special spirit and attraction about it. The face of this figure is proportioned much like a stylized face mask, but the execution of the relief carving was done in a more improvised and direct manner. The eyes are by far the largest and most prominent features of the face, while the nose and mouth were rendered in a very simple and direct style. The body and limbs of the figure are entirely minimal, but nonetheless convey a great deal of spirit and personality. As in many small images like this, the hands touch the body at the hips, and a simple piercing slit separates the arms and torso. Human hair is pegged into the top of the head, which gives the image an additional amount of life and attitude. The head is slightly hollowed on the back to look more like the back of a mask than a rounded human head, which is altogether typical of small Northwest Coast human images.