Daily Art Moment: Haida artist

Adze, Haida artist, 4 x 9 ½ x 1 5/8 inches, wood and steatite with abalone shell inlay. A photo of a wooden adze with the head of an animal containing abalone shell facial features. The animal head is at the right side of the woodworking tool and has a small upright ear, large shell eyes, flared nostrils, and a wide mouth showing large shell teeth. The wood is a warm brown and very smooth all over. The abalone shell is a grayish silver with flashes of bright white and deeper tones of gray and brown. Extending from the back of the head to the left is the tool’s cylindrical handle that ends in a point like a short tail. The animal’s neck extends down to the base of the tool with the handle and base connecting at each end and forming a void and room for the artisan’s hand. The base is wrapped with thin strips of dark brown leather that have compacted with use. These leather strips hold a piece of a steatite to the base. The steatite extends back past the end of the adze. Old museum accession numbers are seen at the bottom rear of the base having been added years later.

“The art of the peoples of the Northwest Coast is often represented by large-scale, heroic sculptural works, complex masks, and other regalia that represent and celebrate their clans. These works were created for communities and large audiences. This elegant wooden adze, however, was seen primarily by an audience of one: probably the Haida artist who carved the piece himself. The function of this tool was not improved by the addition of an animal head, likely a bear, with striking abalone shell inlay. But it probably gave pleasure to the user as he pursued the labor-intensive work of carving of large poles, canoes, or planks for house construction. Our selection on #IndigenousPeoplesDay is a tribute to those unnamed artists whose hands transformed ordinary objects into experiences of beauty.”

Kathleen Ash-Milby, Curator of Native American Art

Haida artist, Adze, ca. 1910. Wood and steatite with abalone shell inlay. The Elizabeth Cole Butler Collection, 2013.1.6, no known copyright restrictions

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