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Haida Art
Haida Art

    Chiefly Possessions

*Raven Rattles
*Copper Shields
Headresses (Frontlets)

All the north coast groups adopted the frontlet, but they each developed distinctive styles. The typical Tsimshian frontlet is a human figure with a head larger than its body and limbs, squeezed into a rectangular or dome-topped plaque that is surrounded by small human or crest animal figures. The frontlet of the Nisga'a of the Nass River has shallow rounded carving of the central human figure with squares of abalone shell surrounding it. The Tlingit frontlet has a more irregular pattern of small figures around the central figure, which is usually a crest animal rather than a human; the colours are more variable than the standard black and red used by the Haida, with a preference for green and grey.

VII-B-690 This chief's frontlet representing the Moon is similar to one worn by John Robson. The abalone shell inlays on the face and rim of the Moon reflected the firelight, while the flicker feathers served as an invocation to that bird to carry the chief's prayers skyward.

Probably acquired at Skidegate before 1899 by James Deans for the A. Aaronson collection.
CMC VII-B-690 (S85-3282)

The Haida frontlet is mid-way between those of the Tsimshian and Tlingit, in that animal figures are common in the centre but human figures are not rare. The Haida carve the central figure in higher relief and outline its eyes with a black line that among the Tsimshian is rendered by a change in sculptural plane between the eyelid and the eye. Haida frontlet plaques are round or oval as often as they are rectangular. One classic Haida frontlet uses a rectangular frame with a high relief figure of Dogfish Woman.

Although frontlets were acquired from the Nisga'a people, the Haida elaborated the three-dimensional sculptural qualities of the form. This portrayal of the mythic Dogfish Woman is one of the finest examples from Skidegate village. It has a train of ermineskin, flicker feathers at the sides, and sea lion whiskers at the top; the eyes and joints are inset with pieces of abalone shell.

Collected circa 1898 by Charles F. Newcombe.
CMC VII-B-1102 (S92-4298)

The north coast frontlet embodies a complex cosmological message in which the dominant reference, conveyed both by the visual forms and by the materials used, relates to beings of the sea and the under world. However, images of humans representing the middle world, and birds the upper world, are not excluded. The upper world and under world references include the painted leather Whale tail that projects from the back and the sea lion whiskers on top that form the cage into which eagle down is placed. The flicker feathers that adorn the sides of the headpiece represent the role of messenger played by these birds, which are said to travel up and down the world tree, or axis mundi, and serve as messengers between worlds. Similarly, the ermineskin train refers to the role that creature plays in marking the seasons through its change of colour. The abalone shell, which comes from the sea, is thought to reflect the sky world.