House Posts

Interior house post, Klukwan (Id: 31-29-14)

Culture: Tlingit. Clan: Kaagwaantaan, Finned House . Place: Klukwan . Date collected: 10/30/1930.Material: Wood, pigment. Width: 87.6 cm. Length: 224.3 cm.

 

Interior house post, Klukwan (Id: 31-29-15)

Culture: Tlingit. Clan: Kaagwaantaan, Finned House. Place: Klukwan. Date collected: 10/30/1930.Material: Wood, pigment. Width: 85.3 cm. Length: 224.5 cm.

 

This pair of house posts, created in the 19th Century and originally collected by Louis Shotridge in 1931 from the Klukwan village in present day Klukwan, Alaska, was one of two pairs of posts in the Finned House of the Tlingit culture’s Kaagwaantaan, or wolf, clan. While they are called posts, most often these would not have been the primary loadbearing system in the home; the decorative posts serve as shells to house the main support posts, which support the main beams of the roof. The architectural function can be seen both in the concave U-shaped section at the top of each post as well as the vertical splits in the wood from supporting excess weight. Additionally, because these posts were detachable, many were salvaged and survive today. Examples can be seen in the collections of The Museum of Natural History in New York and the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.

Most often, the two pairs of posts in each house were located on opposite ends of the main room, with the first pair located on either side of the main entrance to the house and the second pair located on an elevated platform at the back of the room, located on either side of the house screen, and directly facing the entrance. This house plan is an integral part of the famed potlatch ceremony, which often would take place in this space. The house posts served to frame the ceremony happening in the room, and as such, their level of importance cannot be overlooked.

As with many objects from the Northwest coast, the image representations in these two house posts are difficult to understand. However, the name of the home – Finned House – refers to the dorsal fin of a whale, and as the crest of this clan, this would have been a requisite trope in the visual program of the structure. Much like the House Screen that would sit between them, these house posts serve to show clan signs and tell the clan’s history. These two house posts seem to have dorsal fins represented on different locations of the posts; one post has what appears to be a dorsal fin located between a large pair of eyes of the grinning figure in its top register, while the other post seems to have a smaller representation of the dorsal fin in its bottom register. In addition to the fins, other recognizable representations of creatures include ravens seen in profile, frogs seen head-on, as well as human faces seen head-on. This is not to say that there are not other representations present in these posts, but these are the most easily read. Further recognizable forms in these posts include teeth, claws, and ovoid-shaped eyes.

The iconic images represented on each post would have been first carved with an adze into a single plank of wood. Atop most of the surface, paint has been applied with regularity to different sections. The predominant colors are black and red, with detectable accents of blue and white present in the recesses of the carving. The massive posts, approximately eight feet in height, are deliberately bowed in form, possibly to give a more expansive surface for carving but also to create a more monumental impression for the space that they define. While it may be easy to try and read these objects in the same way as totem poles, they are not organized in the same manner.

 

-Travis Mager

 

References

The Louis Shotridge Digital Archive
Alaska Native Knowledge Network http://www.ankn.uaf.edu/ANCR/Southeast/TlingitMap/Jilkaat.html
Jonaitis, Aldona Art of the Northwest Coast
Holm, Bill Northwest Coast Indian Art: An Analysis of Form
Holm, Bill Spirit and Ancestor

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