OBJECT OF THE MONTH - September, 2008

Miniature Argillite Totem Pole

Miniature argillite totem pole (UCM 10383) by Charles Edenshaw (Tahaygen).

The Haida people are a Northwest Coast Native American group that lives on the Queen Charlotte Islands of British Columbia, Canada, and the southern islands of Alaska (Kaigani Haida). Haida artists first adopted the carving of argillite in the early 1800s.

Argillite is a soft stone that measures 2.5 on the 1-10 hardness scale used by geologists. Unlike wood and bone, argillite has no grain and allowed Haida carvers to develop a more fluid and rounded style of carving. These argillite pieces were often carved into pipes and miniature totem poles, and almost always created for sale to outside communities.
This particular argillite carving is by Haida artist Charles Edenshaw (1839-1920), whose native name is Tahaygen. Tahaygen is one of the most famous and talented artists of the Northwest Coast. He was an accomplished carver of wood, argillite and ivory. In addition, Tahaygen was a master of formline design painting on woven baskets and spruce root hats. Tahaygen worked during the Late Classic Period of Northwest Coast art (1865-1920).
This 18-inch-tall argillite totem pole was probably created around 1890. The pole includes figures of bears, frogs, a human and a wolf. The human figure wears a hat with rings that represent potlatching status. Potlatching is an important ceremony for Northwest Coast societies, including the Haida. This totem pole is an exquisite example of Tahaygen's skillful carving and attention to detail. Notice the delicate cross hatching in the bear's ear. The University of Colorado acquired this object through a trade with Denver Art Museum in 1948.
Learn More:
Native Visions: Evolutions in Northwest Coast Art from the Eighteenth through the Twentieth Century, Steve Brown, 1998, Seattle Art Museum & University of Washington Press.
Northwest Coast Indian Art: An Analysis of Form, Bill Holm, 1965, University of Washington Press.