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Masterfully carved rattle in the form of an oystercatcher - Donald Ellis Gallery
Profile view of an exceptionally carved oystercatcher rattle - Donald Ellis Gallery
Thunderbird carved on the underside of an oystercatcher rattle - Donald Ellis Gallery
Exceptional oystercatcher rattle with symmetric sculptural design - Donald Ellis Gallery

Oystercatcher Rattle

attributed to Kadjisdu.acxh II
Southeast Alaska

ca. 1770-1790

wood, paint, vegetal fiber, marine mammal ivory

width: 12 ⅝"

Inventory # N4337

Please contact the gallery for more information.


Collected by Dr. Hugh S. Wyman (1858-1913), then by descent through the family, being part of a collection of Native American artifacts assembled by Dr. Hugh S. Wyman and his brother, Dr. Hal C. Wyman.
Dr. Hugh S. Wyman was Assistant Surgeon stationed at Sitka, Alaska, aboard the U.S.S Pinta, serving alongside the eminent ethnographer and field collector George T. Emmons. Following his Navy commission, Wyman resided at Douglas Island and Juneau, AK, before establishing a medical practice in Olympia, Washington, in 1899.


Museum of Mankind, London, Cat. No. (the Beasley collection) – See: Wardwell, Allen. Tangible Visions: Northwest Coast Indian Shamanism and its Art. New York: The Monacelli Press, 1996, pg. 262, fig. 398 for an oystercatcher rattle attributed to Kadjisdu.axch

Museum of Anthropology and Ethnology, St. Petersburg, Russian, Cat. No. 211-2 – See: Ibid, pg. 270, fig 411 for another oystercatcher rattle attributed to Kadjisdu.axch

American Museum of Natural History, Cat. No. E2208 – See: Ibid, pg. 313, fig. 470 for a guardian figure attributed to the same artist from Dry Bay, Alaska, collected by Emmons in 1893

Very few names of Northwest Coast artists active in the late 18th century were ever recorded in the literature or oral histories. Remarkably, three surviving sources list one artist by the name Kadjisdu.axch II among the Tlingit of that time. Praised as 'The greatest carver of wood in the history of the Tlingit people' in a written narrative of his work on the Klukwan Whale House, this outstanding shaman's rattle is among the artist's most significant known works. Only recently  coming to light from obscurity, the images and activities depicted are unlike any other rattle of its type; a unique vision composed on the back of an elegantly poised oystercatcher with an ivory beak.  

The black oystercatcher is a large northwest coastal shorebird, whose spirit and image were adopted as allies by Tlingit shamans. Some of the most impressive Tlingit shaman's rattles incorporate this oystercatcher form as aids to the spiritual work of healing and divination. In this example, on the underside of the bird sits a crisply carved face with a protruding re-curved beak and wing designs on either side. The most striking and unusual feature of this rattle is the near-total asymmetry of the carved imagery. The primary figure appears to be a bear carved with a humanoid nose and mouth, indicating transformation between human and animal forms. Atop the animal's head is an exquisitely carved eagle with its small feet curled over the bear's ears. Three subsidiary figures, two small humans and one bear cub, are depicted as if suckling at the teats of the bear. This may be a reference to the origin story of the woman who married a bear and gave birth to bear-human offspring, though this does not seem to be commonly depicted in other objects made to serve the shamanic tradition. On the other side of the bear, an otter or possibly a wolf is shown biting the head of a large salmon that curves back from the right side of the bear's mouth. It's probable that the bear, eagle, wolf, humans and bear cub are all representations of spirit helpers drawn from specific visions experienced by the shaman.

A rattling sound is said to be pleasing to the spirits; numerous objects were created on the Northwest Coast to produce this resonance.That this delicately carved rattle has survived nearly intact for over 225 years is remarkable, likely due to the high degree of respect it undoubtedly commanded among generations of Tlingit peoples.

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