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Animated wooden feast bowl carved in the form of a bear with short legs - Donald Ellis Gallery
Frontal view of a refined bear effigy feast bowl with ovoid eyes and wide lips - Donald Ellis Gallery
Animately carved wooden feast bowl in the form of a bear with residual paint - Donald Ellis Gallery

Grease Bowl

Southeast Alaska

ca. 1840

wood, paint

width: 11"

Inventory # N4430

Please contact the gallery for more information.


Private collection, New Jersey


Brown, Steven C. Native Visions: Evolution in Northwest Coast Art from the Eighteenth Through the Twentieth Century. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1998, pg. 72, plate 4.21, for a stylistically similar Tlingit bowl depicting a frog

Feast bowls are among the most iconic and artistically accomplished works created by First Nations artists of the Northwest Coast. Used to display and serve food during great feasts known as potlatches, some of the most impressive examples are masterfully carved in zoomorphic forms, possibly representing the crest images of their original owners. The present bowl is expertly rendered in the shape of a bear with an oval cavity in its back. With its short legs and slightly tilted head, the vessel appears highly animated. The large ovoid-shaped eyes-sockets and wide lips suggest the hand of a Tlingit carver. 

Feast bowls vary in size from a few inches to several feet in length, depending on whether they were created to hold individual or family-sized portions. Smaller dishes were used to hold eulachon, a flavourful oil rendered from fermented candlefish, and are sometimes referred to as ‘grease bowls’. The present vessel lacks the oil saturation and resulting glossy brown patina typical of small bowls made to hold grease. This, together with its larger size, suggests that the captivating bowl pictured here was likely used to display boiled or smoked foods.