Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Haida Great Box Project

Jaalen and Gwaai with the new box on the left and
the original box on the right © Pitt Rivers Museum
This week skilled Haida artists Gwaai and Jaalen Edenshaw talked to staff about their work carving a replica of a box in the Museum collection.

The original box, made in the late 1800s, is from Haida Gwaii, a group of islands on the northwest coast of Canada. This first came to the attention of Gwaai and Jaalen during a Haida First Nation visit to examine collections at the Pitt Rivers Museum and the British Museum in 2009.

At the time the Haida delegates identified the box as a masterpiece in carving and pointed out objects like this are needed in Haida Gwaii to inspire artists and carvers.

Haida box PRM 1884.57.25 © Pitt Rivers Museum
Consequently, I am really pleased that Gwaai and Jaalen have finally been able to return to the Museum and feel privileged to witness this new box being made.

Even the Western red cedar wood being used to make the box has travelled specially all the way from Haida Gwaii.

Known as a bentwood box, I was really impressed to hear how this is carved from a single section of wood. Gwaai and Jaalen explained how they had to firstly make an undercut in the wood. The area along the undercut was then steamed for about 15 minutes. This made the wood pliable enough to bend to form a corner.

Jaalen working on the new box
© Pitt Rivers Museum
I was also interested to find out that the painted carved designs on the sides of the box show the face of the Chief of the Undersea World (Konankada) with Mouse Woman (Kuugin Jaad) standing underneath.

Pointing out the face of the Chief of the Undersea World with
Mouse Woman below on the replica box © Pitt Rivers Museum

If you are a carver and live nearby I encourage you to come to book a space this Thursday (18 September) at 2 pm when Gwaii and Jaalen are having a 'woodcarvers gathering'.

You can also keep up-to-date with the  'Great Box Project' by following blogs posted by Laura Peers, the Museum Curator of the Americas collections. Laura will also be giving a free Saturday spotlight talk about the project in the Museum on 15 November at 2.30 pm. I encourage you to come along if you can.

Zena McGreevy
Senior Assistant Curator

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