Search in collections
Tlingit or Tsimshian Bent-Corner Chest File Catalog Entry: Bent-Corner Chest Tlingit (or Tsimshian?) Stikine River Wrangell, Southeast Alaska c. 1750-1800 Spruce, paint, red turban snail opercula, rawhide, later cut nails 17 1/2" h. x 33 1/2" w. x 19" depth T206 Collected c. 1950 by an Alaskan bush pilot, Stikine River region; Michael R. Johnson, Bellevue, Washington; Howard Roloff, Victoria; Ian May, Sidney, B. C.; Sotheby Parke Bernet 1981, lot 399; Stefan Edlis, Chicago The Stikine River flows from deep within the British Columbia interior, through the coast mountains, and empties into the sea near the town of Wrangell, Alaska. It is one of the oldest references in Tlingit oral history. The Stikine (which can be translated as "fast water": Herb Bradley, Tlingit elder, PC 1985) and Nass Rivers were two of the major routes taken by migrating Tlingits from the interior to the coastal area in the post-glacial period. The Stikine Tlingit nations were strong and in control of valuable resources and trade up this fast-flowing marine highway, navigable for over 180 miles upstream. The material culture of the Stikines, which represents their history and tradition, is rich, varied, and magnificent (c.f. Holm 1987, pp.188-207). Ancient and historic village sites were relocated from time to time around the lower river, the shoreline outside its mouth, and the islands in the adjacent area, and now the town of Wrangell is the center of contemporary life. Stikine heritage endures today in the form of the remaining totem poles, house sites, and ongoing cultural traditions looked after by a dedicated Native community. This very old chest, its antiquity revealed by the unusually archaic style of the painted design fields, probably dates from well before the arrival of Europeans in Southeast Alaska. The arrangement of the formline patterns demonstrates that the structure of bent-corner chest designs was established long ago, and adhered to conservatively by the followers of the traditions (c.f. fig. XX T184, a much later, directly-related composition). Here the main, black formlines are relatively thin, and it is primarily their angularity, the weight of the secondary red design elements, and certain archaic design structures that denote the age of the container (Footnote 1). The antiquity of another common feature of the relief carving of such chests is demonstrated here as well. Note the extra depth of relief around the edges of the double-eye designs of the central head and the larger inner-ovoid shapes in the four corners of the main design field. In each of these areas, the whole space within the black formline ovoid is domed by relieving back the edge bordering the formline, painting and relief-carving the inner-ovoid designs on the domed area, and then carving a final additional relief around the fineline that surrounds each inner ovoid. This greatly increases the perception of depth in the whole surface design. The plank from which the chest was hand-hewn, kerfed, steamed, and bent is of Sitka spruce; a straight-grained, coniferous tree known for its strength-to-weight ratio and ability to flex under steam. In this case it appears that the top and bottom of the chest are also made of spruce, rather than the red cedar more commonly used for these pieces. Older literature on the Northwest Coast once gave the impression that everything was made of red cedar (and certainly this magnificent wood was of central importance), but increasing experience and examination (including scientific analysis) reveals that spruce was very commonly used for a wide variety of objects from large containers to small sculptural pieces. Sotheby Parke Bernet 1981, lot 399.
depth 19 in, height 17.5 in, width 33.5 in