1884.57.25 .1 1884.57.25 .2
Elaborately carved and painted bentwood chest [.1] with lid [.2]. [MJD 30/09/2009]
Place details: N AMERICA. Canada / British Columbia Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands) NW Coast. Cultural Group: Northwest Coast, Haida: Local Name: tauu taa Materials: Wood Plant / Pigment / ?. Processes: Kerfed Grooved / Steamed / Bent / Carved / Painted / ?. Dimensions: Max L = 1040 mm Max W = 610 mm Max H = 710 mm Maker: Unknown Field Collector: Unknown When Collected: By 1874 Other Owners: Pitt Rivers sent this object to Bethnal Green Museum for display, as part of the first batch of objects sent there, probably in 1874. This object was listed in the Delivery Catalogue as having been transferred from South Kensington Museum in 1884 PRM Source: Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt Rivers founding collection Acquired: ?Found unentered Donated 1884
KEYWORD: Box / Lid / Status Object / Coffin Box? / CLASS: Box / Status / Furniture Dwelling / Death? / ?.
Object description: Elaborately carved and painted bentwood chest [.1] with lid [.2]. Each side of the box is decorated with a design that is symmetrical on the left and right side. The front of the box is the long side with hands at the bottom centre. On the front, the very top corners are bordered in black with triangles done in red cross-hatching. There are salmon trout head designs in black and blue pigment in each of the four corners. In the centre, on the left and right side, are red faces in profile with large round blue eyes with black pupils, nose in red cross-hatching, down-turned mouth with blue teeth, and ears with blue split-U designs and black cross-hatching. The central section of the front side is a large face with two eyes formed from double-eye designs painted in black and blue with a small circular nose between each of the double-eyes and a mouth formed from red cross-hatching underneath. Between the eyes is a circular, unpainted nose. The mouth is formed from a down-turned mouth with blue teeth in which is set an abstract representation of Kuugin Jaad (Mouse Woman) with elongated eyes and long red extensions on either side of the eyes. The corners of the mouth are filled with blue and black round eye designs, red lines and black cross-hatching. There are two red hands with black and blue designs in the palms at the bottom on either side of a depiction of Kuugin Jaad. Kuugin Jaad appears as a red figure with two blue and black round eyes, blue teeth and elongated segments decorated with blue and black designs that extend down to the base of the box. On the reverse, there are again four salmon-trout head designs, one in each corner. Kuugin Jaad appears at the top and bottom middle of the box. The corners of the box are painted red. On the reverse of the box, there is a similar orientation of designs with some differences.
There are double-eye designs on the reverse, but these are set further apart. The double-eye designs have black cross-hatching between the eyes, elongated noses with black cross-hatching, and mouths done in black cross-hatching. The area below the two double-eyes is decorated with blue, red and black designs: circles, split-Us, ovoids. The area between the two double-eyes at the top centre of the chest is decorated with an image of Kuugin Jaad with large round blue eyes with black pupils and an abstract body of red, black and blue forms. In the bottom middle of the back side is a depiction of Kuugin Jaad with round blue and black eyes, with blue teeth and red cross-hatched tongue, with blue split-Us forming part of the body, and blue, black and red designs under her eyes. On either side of Kuugin Jaad there are designs, perhaps bird-like, rather than hands. The short sides of the box are almost identical except that on one side Kuugin Jaad's eyes are outlined in black, and on the other they are outlined in red. The sides do not contain blue in any of the designs. The top corners share the black borders with triangular red cross-hatching. There are black salmon trout head designs in the top corners. The sides have two elongated faces in profile, the upper one is predominantly red with black accents in the ears, eyes and mouth, while the bottom face is predominantly black with red nose and lips. There are red designs with black accents in the top centre of each short side. Below this is the central face design with thick eyebrows in black, black cross-hatched split-U ears(?) where the eyebrows meet, single black eyes with black cross-hatching around them, and red cross-hatching extending under the eyebrows. The nose is outlined in red. The down-turned mouth is red with black teeth indicated by small ticks and a tongue outlined in black. Below the face are two red hands with black ovoids in the palms. Between the hands is the figure on Kuugin Jaad with either black or red outlined eyes. Underneath Kuugin Jaad are two salmon trout head designs close together at the base of the box. There are red designs under the salmon trout heads, and the bottom corners are filled with red designs with small black circles. The lid is plain and fits into the chest. The base is plain as well. [CAK 03/03/2010]
Publications history, trails & websites: Illustrated in black and white as figure 3.7 on page 105 of 'This is our life: Haida material heritage and changing museum practice' by Cara Krmpotich and Laura Peers, UBC Press 2013 with the caption 'Bentwood chest (PRM 1884.57.25 .1 -.2' and the accompanying text: 'Creating Records The following discussion was recorded on camera during one handling session at the Pitt Rivers Museum. It shows how Haida delegates approached objects as records as past people and practices, exploring motivations, design principles, cultural change, and continuity. At the same time, the video recording creates a record of the kinds of discussions and knowledge-sharing practices that occurred throughout the visit between delegates themselves and between delegates and their material heritage...' [FB 07/01/2014]
Illustrated in colour on page 31 of The Pitt Rivers Museum: A World Within, by Michael O’Hanlon (London: Scala, 2014). Caption (same page) reads: ‘19 Large bentwood chest, painted with characteristic ‘formline’ design; for storage of potlatch regalia for the clan. Haida people, British Columbia, Canada Length 1040 mm, width 610 mm Donated by General Pitt-Rivers 1884.57.25’ [MJD (Verve) 18/2/2016]
Illustrated in colour on page 77 of ‘Gina Suuda Tl’l Xasii Came to tell something Art & Artist in Haida Society’ by Nika Collison (Haida Gwaii. Haida Gwaii Museum Press 2014). Caption: "The Great Box Haida, c.1880s Conventionalized chest design Red cedar, paint, wooden pegs, nails, 71 x 104 x 61 Photo: Malcolm Osman, courtesy of Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford, 1884.57.25 Haida-made bentwood boxes and chests were highly sought after trade items by people of the Northwest Coast. A box's creation depends on the talents of two: the carpenter, who makes the box, and the artist, who adds the formline." [SM (Verve) 1/12/2016]
Research notes: The following information comes from Haida delegates who worked with the museum’s collection in September 2009 as part of the project “Haida Material Culture in British Museums: Generating New Forms of Knowledge”:
This box was viewed alongside other bentwood boxes on Thursday Sept 10, 2009. It generated an enormous amount of interest amongst Haidas, particularly among the carvers in the group. It was not an object they were familiar with (only four Haidas had ever seen it before and that was in its case). The response was a mixture of admiration, joy, bewilderment and awe. It provoked questions and discussions, and Haidas considered this bentwood chest to be a masterpiece. Jaalen Edenshaw referred to it as the 'upper echelon' of carving. Haidas thought it was so accomplished it deserved to be exhibited in its own room and that it could be the focal point in any exhibition.
In terms of its uses (and in relation to museum records that list it as a coffin), Haidas noted that it could be a coffin, but in the sense that chiefs would often commission a box for use during their lifetime to store regalia and to have on display, with the expectation that they would later be interred in it. However, this box could very well have been collected before its use as a coffin, or may have always been intended for storage of regalia and family heirlooms. Another possible use for the box is medicinal bathing. Diane Brown recalled an oral history that tells of supernaturals bathing in hot water in bentwood boxes for medicinal purposes. In the story, a girl is immersed in the water repeatedly and each time she emerges more beautiful. In another story, a man was healed in such a box when coals were placed under the box, water was added inside the box, heated and then medicines were added. Diane further noted that it was difficult to know what size these boxes would have been as judging scale in relation to supernatural beings is difficult.
Chief Gaahlaay, Lonnie Young, thought the wood used was found on a beach or that it had been in salt water because it shows teredo (or shipworm) activity. Due to the shipworm, Gaahlaay and Jaalen Edenshaw thought the wood used for the base of the box could be spruce or hemlock because these are attractive to insects. Christian White thought the sides of the box were made of yellow cedar (although he noted it was rare to get a plank that large) and that the base and lid were made from red cedar. Christian White observed that the inside of the box was carved with a curved knife. Gwaai Edenshaw and Jaalen Edenshaw responded to Cara Krmpotich's question of what would be done first - painting or carving? - by explaining that such a box would have to be carved first and painted second. It is possible the very bold/primary formlines were painted first, but the secondary and tertiary planes would have been carved first. Furthermore, in terms of the painting, Gwaai Edenshaw thought the red may have been applied as a base coat, followed by the black. Any wear would have affected the black layer first, exposing the red while the black wore away. The green pigment used on the box was identified as a pigment obtained on Haida Gwaii, from Naden Habour. It is the result of a copper clay, often gathered from underneath rocks where it is moist. The marks on the front of the box (between the hands, on the figure of Kuugin Jaad) were identified as animal activity.
In terms of the design of the box, artists commented on a number of unique features that may allow this artist to be identified and connected to other works. Haidas reported that it is unusual to have so much cross-hatching on the back side of a box. (In this case, the front is the long side with the hands; the back is the long side without hands.) People suspected that with so much cross-hatching and double-lines on the back of the box that this was either a sign of extraordinary wealth, an indication that the reverse of the box was on display, and/or that the artist was showing off their abilities. Other interesting features include: an unusual use of salmon-trout head elements; the triangular shapes in the top corners of the front and back (usually they are rounded off); the blue areas around the double eyes on the front and back sides of the box which are both rounded and angular; the flip or twist in the carving around the eyes; eyes lids which do not close; the amount of double-lines used; and the angle between the main eye design on the front of the box. Haidas observed that on the bottom of one of the short sides, the brow thicknesses varied and wondered if this was an error. They also pointed out that the painting was subtly different on each side and that the colours were reversed. Nika Collison noted that the red corners of the box is a feature usually seen on older boxes.
The iconography was described, with Kuugin Jaad (Mouse Woman) appearing on all four sides of the box -- sometimes more than once per side, and the Chief of the Undersea World. Kuugin Jaad can be best identified by her two round eyes. On the long sides of the box, she appears painted red, in the bottom middle of the box with the two eyes near the top of the design. On the back of the box, she also appears in the top middle, between the large double eyes. On the sides of the box, her eyes are at the bottom of the design, which appears between two hands about 1/3 of the way up the box. Kuugin Jaad is said to see all and know all. Billy Yovanovich explained a theory for one of the design elements around the Kuugin Jaad figure as being a red and white mushroom because of the shape of the design element and because Kuugin Jaad is said to live under these kinds of mushrooms. The Chief of the Undersea World is said to appear to people out of the water in the form of a house pole or bentwood box. Jaalen Edenshaw told us that if you saw the Chief of the Undersea World, it foretold of acquiring wealth. Another delegate recalled that the Chief of the Undersea World would gamble and if the Chief won, there would be a bad fish run that year but if the gambler won then there would be a good fish run. This story relates to the salmon trout head designs on the box.
There was discussion as to whether Charles Edenshaw could have carved this box. The exceptional quality and style of the eyes were the main reasons for suspecting Edenshaw as the artist. Some people felt there is a tendency to label things as Edenshaw when they are not. While other people thought that given the small Haida population in the 1800s, there would likely be only a handful of master carvers and that this might increase the likelihood that the box was an Edenshaw (or someone influenced by him). The artist was identified as a master of his craft by delegates. He was also characterised as innovative, 'funky', 'modern', and pushing the boundaries of the art (as much as any Haida artist living today). Gwaai Edenshaw and Jaalen Edenshaw later wondered if the carver of this box produced other pieces that were a major influence on living Haida artist Robert Davidson. Frequently, carvers used their 'tactile' encounter with this box as a reason why direct engagements with objects (rather than photographic or on-line access) were necessary. The layers of information in this box require close examination and depth of field not possible with photography.
The session with the box comprises Tapes 1 and 5 of the Haida handling session videos, which can be found in the Haida Project Related Documents File. [CAK 03/03/2010]
NB there is no record of why this object has been assumed to have been a coffin. Boxes such as this were used by Haida people for a wide variety of purposes, mostly storage, rarely as coffins. L Peers, 28/01/2008
The inside of the box is very clean, with little staining of the wood, and fairly minor insect activity. These aspects further render the box unlikely to have been used as a coffin, and more likely used for storage of regalia or prestige items. [CAK 21/08/2009]
Presumably found unentered. NB Wrongly numbered originally as 1884.56.25. [AP Leverhulme project on founding collection 1995-1998]
There is a very similar object shown in Haida Art GF MacDonald [Douglas and MacIntyre Vancouver 1998] pp 10 - 11 which is described as a storage chest [AP Leverhulme project on founding collection 1995-1998]
This object was viewed and confirmed as Haida by tribal members Vincent Collison, Lucille Bell, and Kwiiawah Jones on 7 September 2007 in preparation for a planned Haida community visit to PRM in 2009 [L Peers, 24/01/2008]
Robert Davidson, a Haida artist and carver, examined this chest on 7 April 2011. The following comments were recorded: The chest sides are made of yellow cedar and the base of red cedar. It is difficult to get a knot free plank large enough to create such a large chest from yellow cedar. The front and back of the chest contain four kuuginn jaat (mouse woman) designs. The kuuginn jaad (Masset dialect) design contains five elements – teeth, beak (U shape), dimple (circle), eye (circle with pupil) and ears (long U shapes). There are also repeated salmon trout head designs. This is the second largest chest seen by Robert Davidson. Robert suggested the artist who carved this box may be the same as the carver of an another large chest (approx 4 ½ foot by 5 ½ foot) at the Field Museum, Chicago. The chest maker may not be the person who carved and painted the box. Robert confirmed that the artist who carved the box was highly skilled, knowledgeable about form but this work exceeds standard design and execution. The detail such as the domed carved eyes and use of extensive cross-hatching would take extra time. The front and back of the design are similar, as are the two sides. The front is identified through the eyes having eyelids. The sides are more experimental in design, letting go of formality with unidentified supernatural beings. The design was painted on each side without the opposite side being seen – therefore if the designs were overlaid they would not be a perfect fit. The layout of shapes are the same. Ovoid shapes were created using templates. Robert thought the box may have been carved around mid 1850s in a time period when Haida art was flourishing and artists were refining their style. [MJD 17/05/2011]
The pigments on the box were analysed by Dr Kelly Domoney of Cranfield Forensics Institute using handheld X-ray florescence (XRF) equipment on 31st July 2014. The summary of the results are as follows. Greens: All areas tested were found to be consistent, indicating the same source of pigment was used. Greens have high levels of iron, with potassium, silica, aluminium and barium. Low magnesium is also detected. The presence of iron, potassium, silica, aluminium and magnesium all point to a green earth pigment. Barium is likely to be an impurity within the mineral and maybe indicative of a specific source. It would be interesting to compare greens from other regions to see if this is the case. Results here are consistent with Wainright et al's paper. The trace levels of copper within the green paint rules out the use of a copper-based pigment as discussed by Wainright et al. Blacks: Very high levels of iron in all black areas tested point to a black iron-oxide pigment. Elevated calcium and phosphorous are also present, and could indicate the use of bone black, or impurities within the iron pigment. Elevated zinc is also found on Side 3, Area 2. It would be useful to examine this area to see if there is an obvious colour difference or adhered substance. Reds: Again, very high levels of iron in all red areas tested indicates the use of red iron oxide. Mercury was not detected, which therefore rules out the use of vermillion. Elevated zinc was also found on Side 2, Area 2. The table of results has been added to the RDF along with images used to determine side numbers. [HR 01/09/2014]
In September 2014, Gwaai Edenshaw and Jaalen Edenshaw made a replica of this box: see RDF. [LPeers 6/10/2014]