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Charles Edenshaw
with slender shaft of expanding cylindrical section, the smooth surface with a series of ninteen raised bosses, most inset with a circular abalone disk, with a snake coiled around the top, its body with finely cross-hatched design centering a band of stacked crescent-shaped motifs, the faceted finial inset with abalone and surmounted by a sterling silver ferrule, finely engraved with an enigmatic creature, the head and body of a sea lion, the dorsal fin and fluke of a killer whale, a curved ivory handle at top, with a series of five human faces stacked one on top of the other, a pair of hands under each chin, perhaps emerging from the cockle shell below, with the mollusk's head at the tip
Height: 38in. (96.5 cm.)
Special notice
Notice Regarding the Sale of Material from Endangered Species. Prospective purchasers are advised that several countries prohibit the importation of property containing materials from endangered species, including but not limited to coral, ivory and tortoiseshell. Accordingly, prospective purchasers should familiarize themselves with relevant customs regulations prior to bidding if they intend to import this lot into another country
Further details
Charles Edenshaw (1839-1920), who was also known by his Haida name of Tahaygen (the Anglicization of Da.axiigang), was a prolific and gifted carver of wood, argillite, silver, and ivory. He was also an inspired designer of formline images that he painted on spruce root weavings completed by his wife, Isabella. These include numerous traditional style Haida hats, as well as baskets, at least one basketry cradle, and small oval mats. Three of his most common media are represented in the elaborately decorated canes that he made throughout his later life: wood, ivory, and silver. These canes were produced both for his use and for sale. Some were perhaps commissioned to be used as special presentations to respected officials or community leaders as mementos of their time in Haida country.

The earliest documented of these canes (of which he made a dozen or more) are the two that were purchased by James G. Swan of Port Townsend, Washington, in 1883 at Edenshaw's home in Masset (see also Brown, 1998: 118-119, fig. 5.17). One of these, now in a Port Townsend museum, has a carved ivory handle that depicts a human hand grasping a serpent with a frog in its mouth, while the other Swan described as being Edenshaw's representation of the head of Jumbo the elephant. Two other known canes by Edenshaw also represent the hand-and-serpent motif, one now in the Seattle Art Museum and the other in a private collection. Each of these three is different in detail, and documents an increase in sculptural conception and accomplishment. The three display a progression in the placement and composition of the serpent aspect, with an increase in the degree of piercing and delicacy in the serpent depiction. With the exception of these three related images, all of Edenshaw's other canes are sculpted in unique images, with sculptural references drawn from both Haida and European artistic traditions.

The three canes in this group are typical of Edenshaw's mastery of traditional media and iconography. Each includes the ivory finial, sterling silver engraved ferrule, and sculptured wooden shaft that compose his most elaborate canes. Lots 185 and 187 have a wooden shaft with a raised and abalone-shell inlaid 'branch-nubs' down the length of the shaft. The serpents feature stylized reptilian heads, deeply relieved 'belly scales' that are visible on the back of the snakes, and checkered texture areas that replicate the scaly outer skin of the snakes. Swan described the wood of the shafts in his canes as wild crabapple, a very hard, dense, and not-commonly-straight native wood. The third cane, lot 186, features what appears to be a sea lion that is coiled between branch-like nubs that are similar to those on Edenshaw's cane shafts. A different carver, however, may have done the work on this staff, though it may also be an earlier example of Edenshaw's carving. The simple composition of the hand and whale and the smaller ferrule suggest work from an earlier period in Edenshaw's life.

Lot number 187 features a very inventive depiction of a well-known Haida creation story, that of mankind emerging from a clamshell on Rose Spit, Graham Island (see also Hoover, 1995. Here the stylized clam is carved as a beautifully curling, walrus-ivory handle for the cane, with five elegantly sculpted human faces looking out from within the shell on its back. The surface of the silver ferrule is encircled by an engraved sea lion design. Lot 185 has a curling walrus-ivory handle carved with the image of a humaniod bear, which appears to be wearing a pendant-hung dance apron. This may represent a shaman figure with leather apron. Below the humaniod bear is a small land mammal. The silver ferrule on this cane is engraved with an American coin-inspired eagle design featuring outspread wings and foliate accompaniments.

Lot number 186 features a whale-tooth ivory finial or handle, carved as a detailed human hand grasping the two-dimensional formline design of a whale against its palm. The hand is typical of Edenshaw's human hand sculptures, in that it includes such details as finely carved fingernails, naturalistic differences in the size and attitude of individual fingers, and a fan of slightly raised ridges on the back of the hand representing the tendons of the fingers. The much narrower silver ferrule at the base of the ivory on this cane is engraved with the Haida-style formline design of a bird, whose head, wing, tail and foot are depicted.

Steve Brown
Sequim, WA
May 5, 2003

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