Sunday, November 8, 2015

Haida and Inupiaq Pipes of Exception

Some quality pipes in this upcoming auction on November 18 at Walker's Auctions, Ottawa...


November 2015, Lot 99
Unidentified Artist, Haida, Panel Pipe, 1830s, argillite, 2.25 x 12.25 x 1 in, 5.7 x 31 x 2.2 cm

Est. CAD$15,000/20,000
Provenance: a Montreal collection

See a similar pipe collected by the American explorer George Catlin in the 1830s, and now in the collection of the National Museum of the American Indian (formerly Heye Foundation), illustrated in Leslie Drew and Douglas Wilson, Argillite: Art of the Haida (Hancock House, 1980), p. 65.

This extraordinarily delicate pipe is a classic example of the “block-and-tackle” motif. Moreover, based on comparable examples, it almost surely dates from the 1830s. Drew and Wilson’s describe the type and suggest why this subject might have had special appeal: “The mechanism, after all, was much to be prized. Its weight-lifting capability had been demonstrated onshore occasionally, when a ship’s company would help villagers to raise a great cedar totem pole. Blocks and tackle stretch from one end of the panel to the other and sometimes animal figures such as grizzly bear flatten out beneath the roping, almost crushed by it. In a few of these panels, a man is shown with his back arched, as though he is caught in the running gear. These may be remembrances of accidents in which the unleashed power of the mechanism etched itself unforgettably into the carver’s mind” (p. 175).

Drew and Wilson illustrate a second pipe with this motif, in the British Museum collection, accessioned in 1837 (illustrated p. 174). That pipe (which the authors aptly describe as “a daring undertaking in argillite”) strongly resembles our example; it is quite likely actually, that these two remarkable pipes were created by the same artist. In our version, the artist carved not three animals but one crouching animal, a dog perhaps. The animal appears to be not “trapped” in the mechanism, so much as straining to be an integral part of it.


November 2015, Lot 99
Unidentified Artist, Haida, Panel Pipe, 1830s, argillite, 2.25 x 12.25 x 1 in, 5.7 x 31 x 2.2 cm


November 2015, Lot 99
Unidentified Artist, Haida, Panel Pipe, 1830s, argillite, 2.25 x 12.25 x 1 in, 5.7 x 31 x 2.2 cm



November 2015, Lot 100
Unidentified Artist, Haida, Panel Pipe, 1860-1880, argillite, 3.5 x 10.25 x 1 in, 8.7 x 26 x 2.3 cm

Est. CAD$16,000/20,000
Provenance: a British Columbia collection

This panel pipe exhibits a combination of piercing between figures in the upper half and a more solid sculptural style in the lower portion of the carving. The artist apparently elected to enclose the drilled hole for the smoke path in the solid, lower section of the object. The undersized pipe bowl is located in the head of the bear figure that forms the peak of the upper edge of the sculpture. The smoke hole travels down from there and turns toward the lower end of the carving where it exits. Ten figures are composed together in the sculpture, including birds, the bear, humans and sea creatures. The style of the carving and two-dimensional design work indicate the pipe most likely dates from the later years of the panel pipe tradition, between about 1860 and 1880. During those years, the rise in popularity of model totem poles in argillite caused a shift in production by Haida artists that eventually supplanted the making of panel pipes.

Reference: The Magic Leaves, page 48, figures 24, 27: The two examples feature a similar division of piercing; more in the top portion and less piercing along the bottom where the smoke path runs.
(Steven C. Brown, October 2015)


November 2015, Lot 100
Unidentified Artist, Haida, Panel Pipe, 1860-1880, argillite, 3.5 x 10.25 x 1 in, 8.7 x 26 x 2.3 cm





November 2015, Lot 161
Unidentified artist, Haida, Early Panel Pipe, c. 1830-40, green argillite, 4.25 x 9.75 x .75 in, 10.8 x 25 x 2 cm

Est. CAD$15,000/20,000
Provenance: a Montreal collection

The first documented argillite carvings of the type known as panel pipes date to the early 1830s (see The Magic Leaves, Macnair and Hoover, page 43). The style of the carving and two-dimensional designs of this example indicate that it was most likely made in the early years surrounding that date. The green color of the argillite is rare, but part of the natural variation in tone that occurs in the Slatechuck Quarry near Skidegate village, Haida Gwaii, from which the Haida continue to obtain their argillite. Panel pipes are narrow slabs of stone that are longer than they are high, and are based on the concept of a tobacco pipe. Some examples are compact in composition, with little cutting or piercing between the figures. 

This example illustrates a more developed sculptural sensibility with a large amount of delicate piercing between figures. The sculpture includes four birds (two raven-like, one eagle, and one of unknown identity), one winged image with a human face, a whale, two frogs, one complete human figure and a small mammal of uncertain identity. One of the raven’s bodies has been broken out of the sculpture. The small bowl of the pipe is located in the large whale’s head near the top center of the sculpture. Part of the stem, or smoke-path, extends down from between the whale’s pectoral fins into the mouth of the large frog below, and from there to one end of the sculpture. Many later carvings of this type were pipes in name only, and the drilled hole from the bowl to the end of the stem was left unconnected.
(Steven C. Brown, October 2015)

November 2015, Lot 161
Unidentified artist, Haida, Early Panel Pipe, c. 1830-40, green argillite, 4.25 x 9.75 x .75 in, 10.8 x 25 x 2 cm





November 2015, Lot 228
Unidentified Artist, Inupiaq, possibly Nome or St. Michael, Alaska, Pipe with Schooner and Animal Figures, c. 1880-1910, ivory and thread, 3 x 7 x 1.25 in, 7.6 x 17.8 x 3.2 cm

Est. CAD$5,000/8,000  U.S. ONLY
Provenance: Albrecht Collection, Scottsdale, Arizona; Alaska on Madison, New York; an American private collection

Engraved ivory pipes were a popular trade good in late 19th century Alaska. Occasionally engraved pipes were further embellished with relief carving (see Dorothy Jean Ray, Eskimo Art: Tradition and Innovation in North Alaska (Univ. of Washington Press, 1977), pp. 226-227. This pipe is ornamented entirely with relief carving, in a rustic style. Dominated by a two-masted schooner, the pipe also boasts carved figures of a variety of animals including walruses, seals, caribou, whales, and birds, as well as dog sled teams.

Photos and descriptions courtesy of Walker's Auctions.




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