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Hide garment with painted face panel and bundles of human hair - Donald Ellis Gallery


Tlingit or Tsimshian
Southeast Alaska or Northern British Columbia

ca. 1800-1830

tanned hide, probably elk, paint, hair

height: 28 ⅞"

Inventory # N4369

Please contact the gallery for more information.


Private museum collection, Virginia
James Economos, Santa Fe, NM
Private collection
Will Channing, Santa Fe, NM
George Terasaki Collection, New York, NY, acquired in 2008


Peter The Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnology, St. Petersburg, Russia, Cat. Nos. 211-21 and 2454-10 - See: Berezkin, Yuri E. (ed). Tlingit: Catalogue of the Kunstkamera. St. Petersburg: Russian Academy of Sciences, 2007, pgs. 178 and 179, pls. 206 and 207

American Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Cat. No. 130589 - See: Sturtevant, William (gen. ed.) Heizer, Robert (vol. ed.) Handbook of North American Indians, Vol 8: California. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1978, pg. 218, fig. 13, (lower right)

American Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution - See: Drucker, Philip. Indians of the Northwest Coast. New York: Natural History Press, 1955, pg. 64, pl. 22 (upper left)

This painted hide garment from the Tlingit or Tsimshian peoples of Southeast Alaska and Northern British Columbia strikes the viewer with the sheer vigour of its visual expression. Painted in black on tanned hide, the two distinct eyebrows frame smaller, widely-opened eyes. Just below, the dorsum and apex of the nose organically extend into the slightly opened mouth. The design is reminiscent of faces rendered at much smaller scale on bentwood boxes, chests, house fronts and interior screens of the period. Below the rectangle containing the face design extend symmetrical, if nonrepresentational, formline designs across the full breadth of the panel. Thick prominent lines just below the centre of the mouth are framed by a much lighter complex of fine line work to either side. Technically refined, the painting is both masterfully designed and diligently executed. The simplicity of linework adds to the remarkable boldness of the panel’s overall impression. Bundles of human hair stitched into the top part of the garment only amplify the strong sense of movement contained in this composition.

This face panel is likely a fragment of an originally larger garment that was cut and crafted from one thick piece of hide. The tunic would have had a similarly painted panel on the opposite side. This type of hide armour was worn either on its own or in combination with wood or bone slat-style armour. Tunics made of painted hide took various forms, from robes draped over the shoulders to sleeveless tunics or poncho-type shirts for shamans. Once the introduction of firearms rendered earlier forms of armour insufficient as personal protection the significance of these garments shifted to the fulfillment of important ceremonial roles. Increasingly, war regalia such as carved war helmets, daggers, clubs and armour became important clan property bestowing prestige on their owners, known as at’oow. Passed down from one generation to the next, these objects became manifestations of clan history including its warrior past.