Frontlets

Headdress

Peace Headdress, Tlingit

Wood, ermine, pigment, abalone shell, buckskin, whale baleen, whiskers, canvas, sinew, feathers

40cm x 90cm x 65cm

Collected by Louis Shotridge in 1924 during Penn Museum expedition

 

Headdresses with carved wooden frontlets and ermine pelt drapings are thought to have originated with the Tsimshian people. However, the design has spread throughout Northwest Pacific Native American cultures, including the Haida and Tlingit nations peoples (Holm 180). A mythological creature appears as the central figure of the headdress, which incorporates precious materials of the region. This impressive form of sculpture is typically used as part of dancing regalia, often accompanied by rattles. Additionally, the dancer wears a robe, the Chilkat blanket being a favorite. The experience is enhanced through woven or painted leggings and aprons (Holm 180). Eagle down would be placed in the whisker crown, so that as the dancers tossed their head, the down, a sign of peace, would fall into the air and among observers. Both men and women of high status can don the headdress, although movements vary between genders. Male dancers move in a more aggressive manner, while women move more tranquilly (Holm 180). It is important to understand the social meaning of the headdress, as it not only denotes a high status when owned and worn, but the right to wear it is inherited through clan lineages.

This particular headdress was collected in 1924 during Penn Museum’s second expedition led by Louis Shotridge. Not only was Shotridge a collector and expert of Tlingit objects, but he was also a member of the Tlingit nation. The base cap of the headdress is made out of buckskin and contains flexible ties. Around the cap, baleen hoops attached with feathers and vertical stakes were originally held solely by sinew, but are now reinforced with modern thread. The frontlet is carved and painted with pigment to depict a raven, sun, and moon. It is inlaid with abalone shell both within the central figure and surrounding it (with three pieces missing). The appearance of abalone surrounding the figure is a detail which suggests that the frontlet was relatively recently created when collected. In earlier frontlets, the use of abalone shell was typically confined to the central figure, with carved grooving surrounding the figure, due to the fact that abalone shell was rarer in the earlier days of Euro-American trade. The frontlet would have most likely been attached to the cap using sinew. However, it is now attached using modern copper wire, which has been inserted though the original holes. Along the top edge of the baleen hoop, sea lion or sea otter whickers are held in place with a combination of sinew and modern thread. At the rear of this hoop, there is a rectangular piece of beige canvas that ermine fur is attached to using sinew. There are four horizontal rows of ermine skins, with thirty-eight in all. The individual skins are attached with sinew to a piece of baleen, which in turn is sewn to the canvas with sinew. Conservation efforts were made in 1986, which included the vacuuming of the furs and insertion of nylon monofilament in some areas.

This headdress is thought to belong to a lineage in the Raven moiety within the Tlingit culture. Shotridge’s field notes on this frontlet clarify the symbolism and specific use of the object:

On a clear cold day when the severe North wind blew, a figure is seen upon the face of the Moon, which was spoken of as the Dis-waq-yik-yadi ‘Moon’s-center-child’ or child of the Moon’s center. The appearance of the figure was a sign that there will be immediate calmness. Thus, the wearing of the headdress at the decision of peace after a war signified that absolute peace [was] to reign in the Tlingit world (Louis).

Photographic evidence suggests that this particular headdress might have been traded to the Haida at some point. The following photo shows a Haida man (second on the left) wearing the headdress in Klinquan, a Haida village.

-Marlena Mattei

References

 

Holm, Bill, and Eduardo Calderón. Spirit and Ancestor: A Century of Northwest Coast Indian Art at the Burke Museum. Seattle: Burke Museum, 1987. Print.

The Louis Shotridge Collection – Objects. University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology and Anthropology. Web.

Winter, and Pond. Indians in Ceremonial Dress, Klinquan. Digital image. Alaska’s Digital Archives. Alaska State Library. Web.

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