Tlingit Carved Effigy Rattle

carved with two opposing faces; each with locks of hair and hide mustache; cotton cord wrapped handle; interior with copper fragments, height 11.25 in.
fourth quarter 19th century

Included is the personal accounting ledger of Mrs. Louise Bennett, which notes her expenses for a sightseeing a trip July 6 - August 16, 1909, from Chicago to Skagway, Alaska.  In her ledger, she notes the purchase of a "rattle" in Skagway for $.60.

Shaman's rattles of the Northwest Coast were often made in a globular form, due to their similarity to a human skull, the repository of a shaman's spiritual power.  Some were made in undecorated, plainly shaped versions, while other examples exhibit a human or animal face on one side, and the back embellished with two-dimensional formline design work.  A few rare examples are like this one, with human faces on both sides of the rattle, in this case of nearly identical appearance.  The two visages represent the shaman or his spirit helpers, who assist in identifying the causes of disease and revealing other esoteric information to the shaman.  The shapes of the eyes and formation of the nose suggest Tlingit origin, and the large, somewhat diamond-shaped mouths indicate that the spirit beings are singing.  In use, the percussive sound of the rattle would accompany the shaman's healing songs, placating the spirits present and assuring a positive outcome for the ritual.

The subject rattle, apparently never painted, displays a certain degree of wear and patina, indicating that it was used in a traditional context before it became available on the curio market in the early twentieth century. The style of the carving suggests that the rattle was created in the beginning of the fourth quarter of the nineteenth century, c. 1880.

Steven Brown (April 2019)

Provenance:Purchased by Mrs. Louis Bennett in Skagway, Alaska on July 27, 1909.


Included is a copy of Steven Brown's essay.

Estimate: $25,000 - $35,000

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