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Chilkat Blanket. Robe

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RTCFA No. NA 1313
Chilkat Blanket. Robe
Artist: n/a Birth: n/a Death: n/a

Region: Northwest Coast
Group / Tribe: Tlingit-Haida

Description: A very early Chilkat Blanket/Robe depicting a Sea Bear Pattern.

Provenance: Purchased from Jackson Street Gallery, Jim Flurry, Seattle Washington in January 2007

*Coe wrote:* Almost anyone who collects Northwest Coast Indian art wants to crown it with a Chilkat blanket from this Tlingit tribe who inhabit an area at the top of southern Alaska above Haines. While Chilkat blankets of the later 19th century and early 20th abound there are very few that ever come on the market from the 1840-1860 period, let alone even early manifestations of this type of weaving....On a sojourn in Seattle, I looked up my old dealer acquaintance, Jim Flury in his lair near Pioneer Square. This time he had a windfall of three Chilkat blankets (summer 2006). There was, however, no comparison of the two later blankets he had to this quite early one dating about circa 1850 at the latest. It has a distinct compositional aura of “what has been called the ‘classic’ compositional approach, with a central image flanked on each side by symmetrical profile images that fill out the design field of the robe.” (an analytical write up by Steven Brown). These natural dyes have permeated the mountain goat wool-weaving matrix leaving in their path of natural absorption of delicate coloration that is nothing short of sumptuous. Here was what I had always been looking for.... This robe however contains a lot of commercial yarn despite its possession of notably other early characteristics. The black outer border for instance, is all commercial sheep’s wool yarn. The only source of commercially produced sheep’s wool yarn was made available by fur traders of the Hudson’s Bay Trading Company and other such trading ventures during the first half of the nineteenth century. Fort Simpson, Hudson’s Bay trading facility in the Tshimsian area was founded as early as the 1830s and it supplied all manner of trade goods to the native population of the Northwest Coast as a whole. Steve Brown notes, that while many weavers chose to employ commercial yarns in their weavings they mostly employed “their own native dyes in the coloring of these yarns.” He points out that this state of affairs can be seen in the yarns incorporated into this robe. If you cast your eyes over it differing dye lot colors can be seen. Over time these color batches respond individually to years of ultraviolet (sunlight) waves. As they fade they create zones of differing coloration. This is most easily noticed in the black areas of coloration. The complex design of this robe reflects an early characteristic of execution. There is a larger amount of form line detail then in many other blankets of general design possess. This suggest that it was designed and woven during a time when highly skilled artists were readily available to paint the pattern boards from which such a weaving was executed. After the small pox epidemic of 1862, which was spread by trading groups of northern Indians who visited Victoria in 1862. The number of skilled artists were reduced in proportion to the rest of the Northwest Coast Indian population. This was an all time tragedy, which has taken the Northwest Coast cultures generations to recover. ...[the robe] it has had a place of honor in my master bedroom above my bed ,...which commands a pilot house like outlook on the Sangria de Cristo mountain range. Aesthetically I think both are equally powerful sources of visual effusion. In some ways it seems as venerable as the mountains and old as the tradition. It is worth abstracting from Steve Brown’s anaylsis: Central Panel: A. (orange outline) “The central image in this robe appears to be a composite image, of two intertwined or overlapping figures. At the top, the head of a sea monster, known in Tlingit as Gonakadeit and in the Haida language as Wasgo, often translated as sea-bear or sea wolf [is composed]. The figure has large eyes and wide ears atop its head. Within the mouth, overlapping the jaw, is composed the tail flukes of a whale body.” B. (yellow) “Below the tail flukes is a formline face that serves as the body of the whale, and below that is the whale’s head itself.” C. (teal) “Between the eyes of the whale is a small rectangular face, below which is composed the whale’s snout, with two ‘nostril-like’ ovoids at the center.” D. (red) “On either side of the whale’s body can be seen the forelegs and clawed feet of the sea monster, grasping the body of the whale. These legs and feet in effect overlap the area where one would expect to see the pectoral fins of the whale.” E. (blue) “The two small U-shapes below each foreleg, the inner one on each side is connected to the whale’s head, serving as a kind of vestigial pectoral fin, while the outer ones are attached to the elbow of each foreleg of the sea monster, lending it a sea creature characteristic.” Side Panels: (purple) “This robe defy any direct interpretation regarding a known crest animal image. The generally rectilinear form of these panels, relates them to the carving of certain other Chilkat robe-type designs seen on Haida mortuary chests and other Chilkat robes that were collected from Haida sources. Whether or not these similar forms are from robes that were actually woven by Haida weavers, or merely owned by Haida clan leaders and traded from either Tlingit or Tsimshian sources, is unknown.” It may be a little of both!