Lot 9
  • 9

Superb Tlingit Polychrome Wood Headdress

150,000 - 200,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • wood, abalone
frontlet, of slightly convex form, finely carved with a bird, probably a raven, with recurved beak, high pointed cheekbones, and pointed oval eye rims inset with rich blue green plaques of abalone shell as pupils beneath sharply arching brows, enclosed by a deeply recessed groove, surmounted by a flattened border, painted in vermillion red and inlaid with plaques of abalone shell.


Private Collection

Acquired by the present owners in 1972 from Michael Johnson, Seattle, WA 


Los Angeles County Museum of Art, March-21-October 20, 1985

Catalogue Note

This superb headdress exemplifies the finest of the Northwest Coast carving traditions. The recurved beak image refers to either a raven or hawk. Depictions of animals, relating to mythology and establishing symbolic ancestral ties, are common to the material culture of the Northwest Coast. Headdresses, including frontlets like this, were highly prized possessions used in ceremonial contexts to convey power and status in the tribe.

For a discussion of the frontlet tradition see Vincent, et. al., Art of the North American Indians: The Thaw Collection, Seattle, 2000, p. 358: "The origins of the dancing headdress and its associated traditions have been placed by Native oral history at the Nass River in northern British Columbia (Swanton 1909, pp. 170 – 173). Examination of the existing artifactual record appears to corroborate this account. Those frontlets that appear to be the oldest, and in some cases illustrate the reverse steps in the evolution of certain conceptual developments, can be traced by documentation or stylistic attribution to the Nass Valley. The frontlet concept spread outward from there to adjacent peoples through marriages or as gifts. ..Many of the oldest frontlets from the northern coast employ the inlay of abalone shell very sparingly, and often not at all, on the flat rim that surrounds the central figure...(The native pale white abalone was almost never used for decorative inlay in the Northwest Coast. Haliotis fulgens from California and Mexico was the preferred species because of its rich color, iridescence and imported value).