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Headdress Frontlet

Arts of the Americas

This type of frontlet would have been attached to a headdress made from ermine fur, wool, down feathers, skin, and sea lion whiskers. It depicts a bear overpowering an insect with a segmented body and wings behind its head and relates to a specific family crest. Headdress frontlets were, and still are, worn by a male or female chief during a dance to greet visitors to the village. Wearing an elaborate, woven blanket or apron and often carrying a rattle, the dancer would gracefully dip the headdress, scattering soft down over the visitor as a gesture of peace.

Charles Edenshaw was a well-known master carver who was among the first Haida artists to earn a living entirely from the works he created. His specific style can be identified through his unique eye-form. The eye itself is on a well-rounded orb, with a round iris enclosed in tapered lids with well-defined rims. There is no hollowing of the socket below the eye, and the cheeks of the figure are well-rounded, intersecting with the eye socket plane. Edenshaw's oeuvre was varied, consisting of full-size and small totem poles along with settees, cradles, carved crest figures for grave monuments, and silver bracelets. His great-grandsons, Robert and Reg Davidson, continue his artistic tradition today.
MEDIUM Maple (Acer macrophyllum), Abalone shell (Haliotis refuscens and Haliotis fulgins), paint, fiber
DATES late 19th century
DIMENSIONS 6 1/8 x 5 1/2 x 3 in. (15.6 x 14 x 7.6 cm)  (show scale)
COLLECTIONS Arts of the Americas
CREDIT LINE Gift of Helena Rubinstein
CATALOGUE DESCRIPTION Headdress frontlet with a carved bear that can be identified by the depth of its eye sockets and the way its eyes are carved. The Bear appears to be overpowering an insect that has a segmented body and wings behind its head. Framing the carving along the sides and across the top are inset rectangles of abalone shell. Also inset with abalone are the bear's eyes, teeth and paws. The animal's face is blue-green with thick black outlined ears and heavy eyebrows. Its nose, mouth, and torso are red. The proper left edge of the frontlet was repaired and the wood backing for the abalone shell in this area was probably replaced. The object is in good condition. The frontlet might have been hollowed out at the thickest part of the piece behind the face to prevent splitting. The blue-green color is frequently used among the Tlingit while defined eye sockets are frequently indicated by the Haida. Some pieces of abalone shell in this piece are lighter and pinker than other bluer pieces and these pinker pieces may have been replacement pieces for the original blue inlays.
MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
CAPTION Charles Edenshaw (Haida, 1834–1924). Headdress Frontlet, late 19th century. Maple (Acer macrophyllum), Abalone shell (Haliotis refuscens and Haliotis fulgins), paint, fiber, 6 1/8 x 5 1/2 x 3 in. (15.6 x 14 x 7.6 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Helena Rubinstein, 50.158. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 50.158_PS1.jpg)
IMAGE overall, 50.158_PS1.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph, 2005
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