All posts in “Haida”

Object of the Week: Eagle Shawl Collar Coat

Wandering through the museum’s Native Art of the Americas galleries on the third floor, you see cloth, basketry, metal works, carved furnishings and more—a variety of objects from the history and life of the Northwest Coast people. Around the corner, it’s hard to miss Preston Singletary’s large work, but look to the left for an understated piece: the Eagle Shawl Collar Coat by Haida designer Dorothy Grant.

In earlier walks through the gallery, I admired the well-structured coat with its contrasting-red appliqué collar and feminine bishop sleeve. I even imagined how wearing the haute couture garment might transform my style and mood on a rainy day.

Eagle Shawl Collar Coat by Dorothy Grant at Seattle Art Museum

But recently, considering pieces in our collection from a lens of social justice, I found new meaning in this coat. Fashion has incredible power (remember this year’s Golden Globes?), and Grant’s work is no exception. The Eagle Shawl Collar Coat links a rich history of innovation with a contemporary mode of expression, capable of transforming and inspiring conversation.

The design of the coat, can be traced to button blankets, the original ceremonial dress of the Haida people1, which Dorothy learned to sew as a young teen. She studied closely with Haida Gwaii elder and knowledge-keeper Florence Davidson, and eventually innovated the traditional garment, altering the neckline so it would hang more comfortably. Grant continued to innovate after her graduation from Helen Lefeaux School of Fashion Design in Vancouver, British Columbia: she launched her haute couture Feastwear line and became the first designer to combine Haida art and fashion.

With the eagle coat in our galleries, Grant gives us opportunity to admire skillful design and innovation. It might also challenge the stereotype that Native American art exists only as commercial art or mute museum pieces. For herself, Grant considers the transformational effect of her work to be her greatest achievement. “I would like to know that I made a difference for First Nations youth, that any idea is possible. That my artwork can make someone wearing one of my garments feel pride in themselves. That through my achievements as an artist and entrepreneur I feel I have broken down stereotypes and changed the perception of a successful native woman.”

– Jenae Williams, Associate for the Curatorial Division

Image: Eagle Shawl Collar Coat, 1990 – 91, Dorothy Grant, wool, cashmere, silk, mother of pearl buttons, 46 × 21 1/2in., Ancient and Native American Art Acquisition Fund, 2014.13 © Artist or Artist’s Estate.
1 Button blankets were introduced as early as the 1840s, after early missionaries denounced the totem poles of the Northwest Coast people. The Haida placed crests of their histories onto cloth instead—elder Florence Davidson referred to button blankets as “totem poles on cloth”—and created a new form of storytelling from the act of oppression.
Share

Object of the Week: Sea Bear Crest hat

An encounter with a sea bear would not be easily forgotten. Among the Haida people, oral histories sustain the memory of this imposing, magical spirit, with its origins at the beginning of the world. A hybrid animal with features of the whale and bear, the sea bear had all the subtle swiftness of the whale and the predatory power of the bear, carrying the mass and presence of both. Traversing land and sea freely, it commanded respect in all domains. Rows of intimidating teeth, set in powerful jaws, made it so. On the back of its neck, a dorsal fin gave him stability and agility in the water, and when he emerged from its surface, as we see him do here, whomever he encountered would take notice.

Before I learned a little bit about this Haida Sea Bear Crest hat, I might have called it (adjective) animated, pointing out that I see a quality of life and energy reflected in it. Turns out that its maker also intended it to be actively (verb) animated, or even danced. It’s a hat, after all, and it was worn as part of a ceremonial costume. The sea bear marked the crest of a particular family or lineage, so displaying it was a show of family pride. Carved wooden hats—for me, even worse to think about wearing something wooden on your head than wearing something wooden on your feet, so gimme clogs—were common in the art of the Northwest Coast Native peoples. In literature, they’re sometimes called “helmets,” and that is maybe a term we would have an easier time connecting to the sea bear.

Sea Bear Crest Hat (detail)

Over 150 years, wear to the paint and wood has made the hat’s features much more quiet than they would have been. Both carving and painted design were meant to contribute to a striking figure. Today, the red pigment that once animated the lips, tongue, and ears of the sea bear is only barely visible. Without looking closely, one might even miss his serious front claws.

Many people have played a part in the life of this piece, from its maker to its performers, and later, collectors. Two figures from this last category are especially significant to us. John H. Hauberg, who donated the piece in December of 1983, has been a hugely influential contributor to SAM. His foundational gifts established the Native art collection as a strength of the museum and placed it on a level of national regard. Interestingly, Hauberg actually acquired the piece from another well-known figure in this corner of the art world: Northwest Modern painter Mark Tobey.

Sea Bear Crest Hat (detail)

The Sea Bear Crest hat features in the display Pacific Currents, on view now in our third floor galleries. If you find him, peer under the brim of the “hat” to get a better sense for how this artwork would have been worn and performed (and to see the fine work of our world-class mount-makers).

—Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator

Images: Sea Bear Crest hat (Tsa.an Xuu.ujee Dajangee), ca. 1870, Haida, red cedar and paint, 10 1/2 x 15 3/4 in. Gift of John H. Hauberg, 83.228. Photos by Natali Wiseman.
Share

SAMart: A new exhibition, a new type of innovation

Canadian Haida artist Robert Davidson is on a lifelong quest for innovation, which he sees as a continuation of the spirit of originality present in the work of generations of Haida artists.

In 1977, the efforts of Davidson and other artists in elevating the status and quality of silkscreen prints as an artistic, rather than touristic, medium resulted in the formation of the Northwest Coast Indian Artists Guild. Experimenting with larger scale and bold graphics, Davidson was inspired to new originality. In Reflections, the black expanse serves to heighten the precision of line, texture and color.

Reflections is included in the new exhibition Robert Davidson: Abstract Impulse, opening this Saturday, 16 November.

Reflections, 1977, Robert Davidson (Canadian, Haida, born 1946), ink on paper, 16 15/16 x 7 3/4 in., Seattle Art Museum, gift of Marshall and Helen Hatch, 2013.19.2, © Robert Davidson. On view starting Saturday, 16 November, in Robert Davidson: Abstract Impulse, third floor, SAM downtown.
Share

SAMart: Model Totem Pole

According to legend, Dan-kea was a grizzly bear hunter who was captured by the bears but escaped and returned home. Trying to quell a fever by sitting in the water, a rival chief got a sea-dog to seize him.  Dan-kea put out his tongue to feel what had touched him and his tongue stuck to the sea-dog, then was drawn out to a great length. This model totem pole has three bears with their eyes, hands and feet inlaid with abalone; the bear at the top is Dan-kea, holding his long tongue in his hands.

The small-scale totem pole is an indigenous genre that pre-dates contact: Captain James Cook personally collected one at Nootka Sound in 1778. Some model poles are diminutive, specific versions of the forty- to sixty-foot versions erected to honor the lineages of deceased chiefs and nobles. By the mid-19th century, these easily portable and compelling sculptures were in steady demand by outside buyers (including museums and World’s Fairs).

“Gyaa.angaa” (Model totem pole), ca. 1890, Haida, yellow cedar, abalone shell, height: 23 ½ in., Gift of John H. Hauberg, 91.1.44. On view in the Native American art galleries, third floor, SAM downtown, starting Wednesday, 24 August.
Share
Share