Elongated shallow trays of this type are among the most elegant food serving vessels of the Northwest Coast and are somewhat less common than the bent corner and square bowls that were similarly employed. They held dry foods, often fish, and were brought out during important feasts and potlatch ceremonies. This one is in a typical rectangular form with slightly pointed ends at the top and bottom. With its undercut rim and scalloped ends, it resembles a canoe in profile. Steven Brown (1995, p. 116) notes that this type of container employs many features that are not related to its functon and suggests that this is an ancient form from the circum-Pacific region. He mentions similar shaped dishes from the Gilyak of Siberia, the Ainu of Japan, and even the Olmec of Mexico.
The beautiful reliefs on the arched surfaces of this tray are symmetrically carved with the representation of a large frontal bird head, perhaps as has been stated in a letter from Bill Holm, to the consignor (9/7/97). He notes the "spiral ears in the upper corners, the wing feathers (?) flanking the body, and the down-turned beak in the mouth." He continues, "your bowl is a very beautiful example of its kind and in extremely good condition." On most examples, the original pigments have worn away, but here, the black and vermillion paints are remarkably well preserved. All of the opercula inlays are intact as well. The dish can be dated to the second quarter of the 19th century. For somewhat related examples, see Brown (ibid); Collins et al. 1973 (p. 176, no. 233) and Wardwell, 1978 (p. 115, no. 91).
Please note a letter from Bill Holm to the consignor accompanies this lot.