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Beaver Effigy Tool

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RTCFA No. NA1138
Beaver Effigy Tool
Artist: Unknown
Wood, alder or maple, metal, 9.75 x 2.13 in. (24,8 x 5.4 cm).

Geographic Location: British Columbia
Region: Northwest Coast
Group / Tribe: Haida


*Coe wrote:* “In northern style Northwest Coast Indian art, the separation of art from function can coalesce so effectively that it is difficult to classify whether this hand-forged and carved chisel is primarily a tool or an aesthetic invocation to the clan affiliation of the carver. From what I know of Northwest Coast artists, they would simply be satisfied to call it a ‘carving’ and in their mind, a ‘carving that carves.’ Function and imagery are as one." This bear/chisel came to light at Jimmy Economo's gallery in Santa Fe resting on the bottom shelf in the back of a case devoted to miscellaneous ‘stuff.’ In a moment of want for anything better to show me, he said, holding it up, “Have you seen this?” I found it a captivating conception. How well is observed the massive body of this heavy-furred, short-limbed animal presented in its full, standing position, in which the animal’s body droops massively, from top to bottom. The forepaws are upraised in the customary pose. Here, however, he casts his eyes downward, as well as outward, as if to apprise, on the sly, whether the carver is up to his task. There is a lack of timidity here in his stance, because, with total confidence, he knows no rivals in the forest. Whether this tool represents a clan affinity or the spirit of the bear infusing the holder of the chisel with the bearlike power and confidence between the grip and the execution of what is being created, is not known. Although the imagery is complex, the form of the bear is carefully designed to lend the carver practical assistance. It can be gripped in a number of ways all of which accommodate the hand comfortably: thumb and forefinger placed either of the bear’s shoulders with fingers extending down the belly to facilitate taking out small chunks of wood, one at a time; a heavier grip where the thumb and forefinger are lowered beneath the forelegs that forces the blade to make larger cuts; or a grip across the rear legs to remove sharper and smaller chips of wood for detailing. It’s a design profile that a present-day tool designer would have difficulty surpassing. The chisel blade shows signs of being re-forged for individual purpose. According to a skilled contractor, familiar with the shaping of hand tools, the top of the chisel has been hand hammered and the stamp ‘Hazelwood’ applied ‘later, after the reworking of the shape.’ If this is so, the name might indicate personal ownership." <%include Links.Imagev3(class=>'floatright',caption=>'Beaver Effigy Knife.')%>