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Silver bracelet by Charles Edenshaw engraved with his wife’s dogfish family crest - Donald Ellis Gallery


attributed to Tahayghen (Charles Edenshaw), 1839-1920
Haida Gwaii, British Columbia

ca. 1890-1910


width: 1 ½"

Inventory # N4086


acquired by the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, ON


“Charles Edenshaw”, Vancouver Art Gallery, October 26, 2013 to February 2, 2014
“Charles Edenshaw”, National Gallery of Canada, March 2, 2014 to May 25, 2014


Charles Edenshaw, Wright, Augaitis and Hart, London, Black Dog Publishing, 2013, pg. 146


Haberland, Wolfgang. Donnervogel und Raubwal: Die indianische Kunst der Nordwestkuste Nordamerikas. Hamburg: Hamburgisches Museum fur Volkerkunde und Christians Verlag, 1979, pl. K-38

In the late 19th century Euro-Canadian missionaries repressed First Nations tattooing practices in an attempt to assimilate Indigenous peoples. Consequently many objects of personal adornment took on new historical significance. Beyond status and wealth, jewellery became an important medium for the public display of clan affiliation. Charles Edenshaw, also known by his Haida name Tahayghen, is the most renowned among a generation of Northwest Coast artists masterfully working newly available materials such as silver and gold. Producing bracelets for both Haida and non-Haida clientele, Edenshaw adapted traditional formline designs to produce a body of work that references family crests and Haida cosmology. As Bill McLennan and Karen Duffek so aptly state in Placing Style: a Look at Charles Edenshaw’s Bracelets Through Time: 'Charles Edenshaw created his wide-ranging, evolving and influential body of work during a period of profound cultural change in the Pacific Northwest Coast. Reaching artistic maturity in the mid to late 1800s, he developed a practice that was both rooted in a deep understanding of Haida art and cosmology, and part of an emerging modernity. His metalwork, in particular embodies that confluence of the high point of the “classical” Haida style of the nineteenth century and the social and economic conditions of the period of colonization within which he lived.’

Although occasionally commissioned to produce works of the same design, no two of Edenshaw’s extraordinary engravings are alike. The precise identity of the animal and/or human image being represented is difficult to ascertain in most Northwest Coast design, as it can combine a family crest with a particular myth or historical event. Transformation between animal and human forms can further complicate identification. However, in the impressive bracelet seen here, we can easily identify a dogfish at its center, which was the clan emblem of his wife Isabella. 

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