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An unusual painted hide tunic shaped in the form of a raven - Donald Ellis Gallery

Shaman's Tunic

Kaigani Haida, Klinquan Village
Prince of Wales Island, Alaska

ca. 1880

hide, native paint, cloth

height: 42 ½"
width: 31 ¾"

Inventory # CN3251



By descent to the granddaughter of a chief of Klinquan Village
Uno Langmann Antiques, Vancouver, BC
Donald Ellis Gallery, Dundas, ON
Charles and Valerie Diker Collection, New York, NY


Metropolitan Museum of Art, May 7, 1988 - January 2, 2000


Native Paths: American Indian Art From the Charles and Valerie Diker Collection, Wardwell, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1998, pl. 127
Donald Elliis Gallery catalgue, 2005, pg. 39
Brasser, Ted. J. Native American Clothing: An Illustrated History. Toronto: Firefly Books, 2009, pg. 268


For two works painted on hide by the same artist – See: Art of the Northwest Coast Indians. Iverarity, Robert B. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1950, color pl. 4, and Indian Art of the Northwest Coast: The Cultural Background of Art. Malin, Edward. Denver Art Museum Quarterly Review, 1962, pg. 38

Art of the North American Indians: The Thaw Collection. Vincent, Gilbert T., Brydon, Sherry and Coe, Ralph T. (eds.) Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2000. pl. T223

The Diker Collection, New York, NY – See: First  American Art: The Charles and Valerie Diker Collection of American Indian Art. Bernstein, Bruce and McMaster, Gerald (eds). Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2004, cat. 110

Shamans on the northern Northwest Coast often owned and employed painted hide tunics as part of their ritual apparel. Most of these tunics are made in a generalized form that include a curved lower edge front and back, with designs painted upon the hide that more or less address the entire surface. The charming example illustrated here is unusual in that the tunic itself is shaped to reflect the painted design, which represents a raven. Worn like a poncho, the hole in the center is for the wearer’s head and neck. The large head of the bird would be suspended on the wearer’s chest, while the wings and tail would drape over the shoulders and hang down the shaman’s back.

The style of painting on this tunic is characteristic of the last stage of the older Northwest Coast design tradition. The painter of this tunic is not known by name, however, other works attributed to this innovative artist can be seen in a drum in the Denver Art Museum, and a dance apron formerly in the Burke Museum (see: Inverarity, Robert B. Art of the Northwest Coast Indians. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1950, color pl. 4 and Malin, Edward. Indian Art of the Northwest Coast: The Cultural Background of Art.  Denver Art Museum Quarterly Review, 1962, pg. 38). While using a more free-spirited and less conventional type of representation frequently seen in shaman’s paraphernalia, the artist has successfully captured the essence and spirit of the mythical Raven.

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