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Catalog Data

Donor Name:
James G. Swan  Search this
Length - Object:
14.8 cm
Width - Object:
7.5 cm
Height - Object:
6.5 cm
Haida  Search this
Object Type:
British Columbia, Canada, North America
Accession Date:
21 Dec 1883
From card: "See also Cat. #89218 (Duplication). Carved by Skaowskeay, an Indian carver of Skidegate, B.C.. Legend - She being out gathering berries, the bears killed all but one whom the King of Bears took for his wife. She had a child by him, half bear and half human. At length the Indian hunters discovered the woman up a tree and thinking her a bear were about to kill her, but she made them understand she was human and they took her home, and this is the origin of all who belong to the Hoourts or Bear Totem. This remarkable carving takes its conception in the legend of the union between a bear and a woman. The carving shows the woman's agony on being suckled by her half human progeny. Illustrated in USNM AR, 1888, Pl. 47, fig. 263a; Pl. 49, fig. 263b; Pl. 50, fig. 263c, p. 322. Casts have been made of this specimen. Cast sent to Royal Zoological & Anthropological Museum, Dresden, Germany; March 22, 1905. 3/1951 apparently only one cast was left. Published originally as Pls. 49 & 50 in Niblack: "The Coastal Indians of Southern Alaska and N. British Columbia." See Swan's letter of Dec. 4, 1883 in Accession record in which he states that this object "was not finished when I got it but just roughed out and my [Haida] Indian assistant Johnny Kit Elswa finished it on the voyage from Skidegate ...". Illus.: Hndbk. N. Amer. Ind., Vol. 7, Northwest Coast, Fig. 2, pg. 595."
Illus. Pl. 86, p. 113 and described p. 150 in Bear Mother chapter of Barbeau, Charles Marius. 1953. Haida myths illustrated in argillite carvings. [Ottawa]: Dept. of Resources and Development, National Parks Branch, National Museum of Canada. Motifs identified there as "Bear Mother under human form, a labret in her lower lip, and one of the Cubs also as a human, suckling ... at her breast, while she is in agony." Barbeau notes Swan's identification/transliteration of carver's name as "Skaowskeay" and says "Actually (according to Henry Young, a Skidegate craftsman, 75 years old in 1949) it is the work of David Shakespeare whose Haida name was Tsagay." An alternate transliteration Barbeau used for his name was Skaoskay.
Listed on page 46 in "The Exhibits of the Smithsonian Institution at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, San Francisco, California, 1915", in section "Arts of the Northwest Coast Tribes (Tools)".
Record Last Modified:
20 Oct 2020
Specimen Count:
Ethnology  Search this
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Data Source:
NMNH - Anthropology Dept.