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Haida Villages
Haida Villages


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*Carved Interior
Poles and Posts

*Interior Screens,
Housepits, and
Housefront Paintings

Despite the fact that all of the mainland tribes between Vancouver Island and central Alaska had painted housefronts, they were rare among the Haida. This is surprising, since the Haida were the most accomplished artists on the coast in flat design as applied to canoes, chiefs' seats and storage chests. One example from the Skidegate area of Haida Gwaii is on the house of Chief Gold, who together with his wife was the first to report the discovery of gold on the islands to Albert Edward Edenshaw in 1849. At the time, Chief Gold was head chief of Kaisun village, but later he moved his people to Haina village (now New Gold Harbour) near Skidegate. He rebuilt his own house at First Beach between Skidegate and Haina to maintain ancient rights of his family to that site.

When Chief Gold rebuilt his house, he added a housefront that follows the precise template of many such paintings among the Tsimshian, especially popular at Fort Simpson. That pattern consists of a Master of Souls flat design with multiple faces in the eyes and human figures in the mouth. The remarkable feature of the housefront is the profile Thunderbird flanking each side of the main design. Since the Haida from the Skidegate area travelled regularly to Fort Simpson to trade, Chief Gold may have either received the right as a gift or purchased it from a Tsimshian chief. Chief Gold subsequently commissioned a local Haida artist to execute this housefront painting. Bill Holm convincingly argues that this artist is also "the Master of the Chicago Settee." The closest Tsimshian example is the house of Chief Skagwait, the second-highest in rank to Chief Legaic at Fort Simpson. In Haida society, Chief Gold had a comparable position as second in rank to Chief Skidegate. Chief Gold added a distinctive Haida touch by putting his Moon-Hawk crest on the gable of his house.

A rare example of a painted housefront from Moon House, which Chief Gold built at First Beach near Skidegate. The Moon-Hawk plaque at the top, which was moved by Chief Gold from his previous house at Kaisun village, is now in the Field Museum.

Photograph by Richard Maynard, 1881.

Another Haida housefront painting exists only as a photograph of a collection of boards from an exquisite housefront, assembled somewhat randomly on a chief's grave in the cemetery of the Kaigani Haida village of Howkan in Alaska. In the photo, about a quarter of the painted boards are missing, most are out of order, and some are upside-down. A number of detailed features of this painting suggest that it was commissioned from an artist at Fort Simpson, as it closely resembles about ten other housefronts from that town. Collectively, these are the finest corpus of two-dimensional design from the Northwest Coast.