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Ontario or New York State

late 18th/ early 19th century


height: 7"
width: 6"

Inventory # W1823



John and Valerie Arieta, London, United Kingdom


Donald Ellis Gallery catalogue, 1999, pgs. 2-3


This rare early ladle depicts 2 human figures wrestling, one appearing to be female. This ladle relates closely to a ladle collected by Lewis Henry Morgan in 1852 among the Seneca, now in the New York State Museum, Albany

New York State Museum - See: Lewis H. Morgan on Iroquois Material Culture, Tooker, 194, pg. 225, for a closely related example collected by Morgan in 1852

Museum of the American Indian, (2/96/11) - See: Aspects of Change in Seneca Iroquois Ladles A.D. 1600-1900, pl. 18                                 

Museum of the American Indian, (14/9600) - See: Indian Art in America, Dockstader, Promontory Press, New York, pl. 237

New York State Museum, Albany, New York - See: North American Indian Art, Furst, Rizzoli, New York, 1982, pl. 224

Fenimore Museum, The Eugene and Claire Thaw Collection, Cooperstown, New York - See: Masterpieces of American Indian Art, Vincent, Harry N. Abrams Inc., New York, 1995, pg. 23

Wood carving played an important role in the artistic traditions of the native inhabitants of the Eastern Woodlands. Masks, smoking pipes, feast bowls, ladles and spoons, were the predominant forms of material culture manufactured in earlier times that survive today.

The appearance of effigies on objects can be found in early prehistoric carving through the late historic period (Prisch 1982, pg. 51). Effigies surmounting the handles of most ladles of Iroquois manufacture are of birds or mammals, representing the clan symbols of their owners. Images of human figures however, are not often seen, and the existence of multiple human figures are rarer still. This wonderfully animated ladle bears a remarkable resemblance to a ladle collected by Lewis Henry Morgan in the late 1840's, now in the collection of the New York State Museum, Albany (see: Tooker 1994, pg. 225). In her extensive study of Seneca ladle carvings, Betty Prisch notes that ritualised wrestling was part of Iroquois burial ceremonies in the 17th century (Prisch 1982, pg. 55). As the figures on this ladle appear to be male and female, perhaps the artist is leaving it to the imagination of the viewer to decide whether the individuals are wrestling or embracing affectionately.

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