Tall dance staffs were made to be carried by dancers as they dance into or out of a performance house. Such staffs displayed the clan emblems of the dancers in a large and movable image, and were tapped or briskly rotated in time with the rhythm of the song accompaniments. This staff represents a tall killer whale dorsal fin. The face at the base of the fin represents the spirit of the whale in humanoid form. Northwest Coast peoples saw animals as humans in animal garb, and often created images that show a transformation from one form to the other. The two-dimensional painted forms on the fin can be seen as mere decorative forms, or as representations of the whale's body parts, pectoral fins, etc. The carving and design style of this staff indicate a Tlingit origin, most likely in the period between about 1880-1900. At the time of the famous Kaagwaantaan potlatch in Sitka in 1904, such tall dance staffs were a common sight, and a large number of them appear in photos taken during that event. Most of these historical photos were taken by E. W. Merrill, a well-known and highly skilled photographer living in Sitka at the time, who was privileged to photograph a large number of Tlingit ceremonies and events that were not available to other photographers.
-Steven Clay Brown