Arts of the Americas
On View: Arts of the Americas Galleries, 5th Floor
This monumental figure represents a speaker at a potlatch, a celebratory feast at which the host distributes lavish gifts to guests. (The word potlatch, meaning “to give,” is an example of Chinook Jargon, a language formerly used for trading along the Pacific coast of Canada. ) A person standing behind the figure would have spoken through its mouth, announcing the names of the attendees. Potlatches mark important occasions such as child namings, marriages, and periods of mourning, but they also commemorate Indigenous people’s ongoing relationship with animal spirits. Potlatches continue to play a central and unifying role in Northwest Coast communities today.
Cedar wood, pigment
116 1/4 x 27 x 13 in. (295.3 x 68.6 x 33 cm) (show scale)
Museum Expedition 1905, Museum Collection Fund
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Gwa'sala Kwakwaka'wakw. Speaker Figure, 19th century. Cedar wood, pigment, 116 1/4 x 27 x 13 in. (295.3 x 68.6 x 33 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Museum Expedition 1905, Museum Collection Fund, 05.588.7418. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: , 05.588.7418_11.703a-b_SL1.jpg)
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Large sculpture of a standing wood figure called a speaker figure that would have been placed outside a house where, through its hollow mouth, the chief's orator would make announcements for the community. The figure stands with arms slight bent at the sides of the figure's body. The legs are bent too. The head is oversized in proportion to the body and the neck is short. Wide bands of black eyebrows overhang large almond-shaped eyes. Nose is long and triangular; mouth is large and open. On the chin is a carved and painted goatee.
Condition: fair; surface wear overall with spongy wooden areas throughout. Second photograph is the figure in situ in the village in Smith Inlet.
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