Object Name: Sculpture (carving)
Manufacturer: Unknown, Alert Bay, BC, Canada
Date of Object, To: 19600000 Circa
Material: wood, ?; metal, brass
Description: A totem on white base, top section has wings and face of a bird. Three other faces displayed on totem.
Narrative: This small totem pole with the inscription "Alert Bay" is an example of FIrst Nation's art that is made for tourists, and it is not a ritual artifact. The Coast of British Columbia is host to a number of First Nations tribes who have similarities, but also differences. Although this totem was made on Cormorant Island, located on the northeast coast of Vancouver Island, home to the "Namgis First Nation" in the region of the Kwakwaka'wakw group, it shares a similar art history with the other tribes of the Northwest. The Parkdale-Maplewood Community Museum has recorded that this small totem was made by a person from the Haida tribe, if so, this person is working in a region that is historically not home to the Haida. The Haida were located much further north, off the north coast of British Columbia, on the Queen Charlotte Islands. This group of islands were known to the Haida as Haida Gwaii, and it is possible that they lived on the islands. This group of islands were known tot he Haida as Haida Gwaii, and it is possible that they lived on the islands since the end of the last ice age, making them one of the oldest populations in the New World. According to George F. Macdonald who wrote "Haida Art", the Haida tribe influenced a change in the aesthetic of the tribes on the mainland and to the south of them when trading began, around 2,000 years ago. Although there were parallel art styles, the exchange of symbols and wealth influenced the aesthetic of the individual tribes, and a shared aesthetic broadened. The North West coast style of art is distinct for its flat designs and use of formlines. Formlines are primarily black and outline the shape of a figure. Red formlines are secondary and occur within the primary spaces. Another unique feature of North West coast art is a form called ovoids. Ovoids are rounded and bulging shapes that delineate the eyes, joints, and sometimes the teeth and orifices of the figure. Sculptural works and decorative art indicated wealth and social rank for the First Nations on the Northwest coast. There is no word for what is "Art" or what is not "Art" in the languages of the First Nations. The totem poles contained a wealth of mythologies that related to supernatural beings, animals, birds, sea creatures, family lineage, and clan crests. Europeans first came to the Northwest coast during the late eighteenth century and brought with them idelolgies of what civilization should be like. The First Nations faced the difficulty of new social codes, and altered there art work to please European and American taste. This alteration can be seen during the nineteenth century and is framed as the classical style. THe figures' eyes, ears, nostrils, and lips became larger - i.e. the eyes filled the forehead, and the mouth filled the jaw. This quality can be seen in the Alert Bay totem that was acquired for the Parkdale-Maplewood Community Museum. During the late half of the ninetheenth century depopulation of the First Nation tribes occurred because of epidemics, and also the deculturalization of the survivors by Indian agents and missionaries. The wood carvers and stone carvers of the Haida started to miniaturize their art and accommodate to the tourist market. The depopulation resulted in fewer artists being trained and the Haida style was almost lost. As J H Van Den Brink says in The Haida Indians: Cultural Change mainly between 1876 - 1970. "By 1935 when the city of Prince Rupert decided to salvage some of the totems of old Skedans and preserve them in th city park there was no longer anyone left to identify the figures on the poles. The answers had to come from the writings of anthropologists such as John Swanton". It was not until the later half of the twentieth century that the First Nations on the Northwest coast of British Columbia began to recover their carving traditions. Even still they faced the appropriation of their style and art in the market place. The demand for small totems. The totem that the Parkdale-Maplewood Community Museum has is small because there was a consumer demand for small totems. It has two figures, the top figure is an eagle, and if the artist was Haida then it would correspond with the Eagle clan. It is probable that the bottom figure is a beaver which would also correspond with Haida Eagle clan. The two wide-teethed faces could be inner spirits of the eagle and the beaver, or relate to a myth about the eagle and the beaver. There are also small creatures on the head of the eagle that would refer to a mythology. The act of writing the location "Alert Bay" on the bottom pedestal of the pole is a twentieth century artifice that caters to consumers. Research: U'mista Cultural Society, Alert Bay, British Columbia, http://www.umista.org/home/index.php. MacDonald, George F., "Haida Art", Toronto, Vancouver, Canadian Museum of Civilization, 1996 Smyly, Carolyn adn John, "Those Born at Koona: The Totem Poles of the Haida Village Skedans Queen Charlotte Islands, Ontario: General Publishing Co Limited, 1973. Van Den Brink, J H, "The Haida Indians: Cultural Change mainly between 1876 - 1970", Netherlands: E J Brill, 1974 The Canadian Encyclopedia Online.
Marks/Labels: Alert Bay
Culture: Native Canada
Dimensions: 39.5 x 6.87.1 x 10 (cm) (ht x len x wi)
Institution: Parkdale-Maplewood Community Museum. Maplewood, NS
Accession Number: 1987.063
Category: Communication Artifacts
Sub-category: Ceremonial Artifact