19th century adz-carved cedar totem. 76"H x 12" - hollowed-out back. Old repaint; estimate at the time of transfer, 1920s.
Description: Small Totem #10: Carved and Painted, Bird on top.
There are 4 separate regions related to Northwest Coastal Art/Carving styles and techniques.
Northern Style: The pre-dominant tribes in this area are Tlingit, Haida and Coast Tsimshian.
Mid-Coast Style: The pre-dominant tribe is the Kwakwaka’wakw.
West Coast Style: The pre-dominant tribes are the Nuu-chah-nulth and Maka on the Olympic Peninsula
South Coast style: Comprised of the Coast Salish and many of the tribes in the Seattle and Portland area.
Each of these styles have similar design elements. However, there are various strong and subtle differences that can help to identify them. The two northern styles, North Coast and Mid-Coast, tend to have more angular and dramatic features. The West Coast and South Coast styles tend to have softer features, and less dramatic angles and lines.
This is a very stylized totem. The design is very smooth and resembles the West Coast or South Coast styles. The figures are very stylized, very rounded with little definition.
The base figure appears to be Bear. The features are small, so it could represent a young bear. The re-painting makes it a challenge to determine some of the detail that could have been painted in beforehand. Young Bear would indicate a young person who has yet much to learn. The lack of detail and body posture further indicates a young person.
The next figure appears to be a fish eating a frog. The tail is painted green, which seems to indicate that it is not Killer Whale. Could be Halibut with the eyes on the top of the head. Frog is head first inside the fish. Frog is not in a teaching posture, but is being consumed. This is an odd posture, as Frog represents transformation and, therefore, would usually be imparting that knowledge to whomever. Halibut was/is an important food source, and sometimes used for shamanic symbolism and ceremonies. One possible meaning to the fish eating frog could be about moving from one persona into another.
The top figure is of a bird. Because the whole carving is so stylized, it could represent a raptor, such as Eagle or a Hawk. The bill is really not long enough to represent a crane or even a raven. The wings are large, which would indicate a raptor. The red on the head puzzles me. If it was a bald eagle, I would have either expected white or black on the head. The only crane in the Americas that had a lot of red on the head is the Sandhill Crane, which is not usually found in the Northwest region. The placement of the bird on top is more supportive of it being a raptor of some nature, and I would have to presume it would represent Eagle. The body posture also gives it a more regal bearing and the top is a place of honor in many respects.
This is an interesting piece because it is so stylized, leaving lots to the imagination.
PERIOD: 19th century
ORIGIN: Northwest, United States
SIZE: 76"H x 12"