Artwork by  20th Century,  Carved Chest

20th Century
Carved Chest

incised inscription “Tsoona” on the inside upper edge
20.5 x 38 x 19.25 ins ( 52.1 x 96.5 x 48.9 cms ) ( overall )

Auction Estimate: $6,000.00$4,000.00 - $6,000.00

Price Realized $14,160.00
Sale date: September 24th 2020

Marion Scott Gallery, Vancouver
Private Collection, Ontario
Cheryl Shearar, “Understanding Northwest Coast Art: A Guide to Crests, Beings and Symbols”, Vancouver, 2000
“Haida Art”, Canadian Museum of History, https://www., accessed March 19, 2020
This beautifully executed 20th Century chest has been crafted with striking, strong lines and deep carving, drawing upon the traditional design elements of the bentwood box of the Northwest Coast First Nations. The design of the box and the motifs carved on each panel add a narrative dimension to the object, inspired by traditional Northwest Coast art and legends with depictions of the Konankada, the Bear and the Dogfish.

The Konankada, Chief of the Undersea World, a being with a small body and large head, is depicted as a two-dimensional flat carving on the front panel of this chest. The ovoid shapes representing eyes have small creatures illustrated within. The oversize hands lead to arms that are tightly folded, while the joints are marked with salmon heads in profile. The bodily joints and orifices, such as eyes and ears, are illustrated as ovoids to illuminate the belief that they act as the sites of exit for souls. The Northwest Coast First Nations hold the belief that all life forms have a distinct spiritual meaning. The Konankada, Chief of the Undersea World, symbolizes the killer whale. Large mammals, such as killer whales, were thought to lurk under the rocky cliffs and reefs of the water, where they kept seals and sea lions as slaves and watched over the spirits of the deep. The people of the Northwest Coast connected with these supernatural beings through song, dance and visual art. The carving on the back panel of this chest is a variation on Konankada. The central being is carved with tall ears and a protruding tongue, with the paws wrapped around a small being also carved with tall ears and a protruding tongue, characterizing a bear and cub. The arms are tightly folded, and the joints of the larger being are marked with salmon heads in profile. This variation in design on the two main panels of the carved chest is traditionally executed in order to signify the Konankada’s protective power as continuous throughout the box.

Each narrow side panel of the chest represents a central being with short squared ears, a wide mouth and lips, sharp teeth and large clawed feet nestled around another being with arched eyebrows and large squared teeth, reflecting a bear and man. These portrayals of the Bear on a central panel, as well as on the side panels reference the belief that the animal is the protector of the animal kingdom, a symbol of great strength and authority in the Northwest Coast culture. According to Cheryl Shearar, “Bear is one of the most prevalent figures in crest and shamanic art, as well as in myths.” As a close relation to humans, the bear is a link between the human and non-human animal realms. The bear also acts as a link between the natural realm and the supernatural. The various illustrations of the Bear on this chest also reference the story of the Mother Bear. Shearer explains: “Amongst the Haida, bears are also the clan ancestor of particular family groups that trace their lineage to Bear Mother. In the stories told about this figure, a high-ranking woman who is picking berries steps in bear dung and then insults the bears. A Bear chief hears the insult and taking human form, appears and abducts her. The Bear chief takes her as a wife and she gives birth to twin cubs with extraordinary powers. The unwilling bride is eventually rescued from the Bear village by a relative, and brought back with her cubs to her home village. These human-bear children are considered the ancestors of those who claim Bear as a crest."

On the lid of the chest is a carved depiction of the Dogfish, an important mythic being in the Northwest Coast culture. The features of the fish are captured in symbolic form on the chest. The Dogfish has been carved with a high domed head, down-turned mouth, pointed teeth, gill slits on each side of the mouth and vertical pupils. The two circles on the “forehead” reflect nostrils or gills, while the double set of fins behind spines and asymmetrical tail flukes flank the domed head. The Dogfish is a small variety of shark found on the Northwest Coast. A solitary creature equipped with a pair of sharp spines protruding from its two dorsal fins. The Dogfish is associated with high rank among the Northwest Coast First Nations.

The motifs, symbols and traditional beliefs of the Northwest Coast First Nations have been a source of inspiration in the creation of this 20th century carved chest. The highly stylized ornamentation carved on the chest represents a renaissance of the culture, both reviving and reflecting upon the traditional stories, artistic techniques and designs of the art of the Northwest Coast First Nations.

We extend our thanks to Jerina Hajno, Freelance Art Consultant, for her research and writing which contributed to the preceding essay.

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20th Century