Probably Era River, Gulf of Papua, Gulf Province, Papua New Guinea
Height: 20 ¼ in (51.4 cm)
Harry A. Franklin, Beverly Hills, acquired by 1963
George R. Ellis, Oceanic Art: A Celebration of Form, San Diego, 2009, p. 40, cat. no. 19
Salt Lake Art Center, New Guinea Primitive Art: The Harry Franklin Collection, 1963
San Diego Museum of Art, Oceanic Art: A Celebration of Form, January 31, 2009 - January 3, 2010
Canoes were, and are, ubiquitous in the Papuan Gulf. Most of the spirit boards and figures that were collected in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were created from pieces of old canoes. (Welsch, Webb, and Haraha, Coaxing the Spirits to Dance: Art and Society in the Papuan Gulf of New Guinea, Hanover, 2006, pp. 13-14). Such may be the case for this spirit figure, as the concave shape of the piece of wood from which it is carved may suggest.
Another common element present in most spirit figures is the navel. These are usually the focal point of such pieces and represent an essential anatomical characteristic. The navel present on this piece is prominent and is emphasized by the white design that surrounds it. The feature was believed to animate the board and the spirit that inhabited it. (ibid., p. 16)