Unknown maker, Haida (?)
Wood, paint
Collected by Samuel Kirschberg in 1896
American Museum of Natural History 16/1133

This hardwood carving, attributed to the Haida by its collector, features a mermaid holding what might be coconuts. Although it is unclear when this particular piece was made, or by whom, mermaids were popular subjects for scrimshaw and wood carving among sailors in the nineteenth century. The mermaid was also a popular figurehead design that might have been a familiar sight to Natives on the coast. Although indigenous carvers were capable of highly naturalistic depiction and may have simply copied the novel form of the mermaid, this figure was probably whittled by a sailor and subsequently traded to a coastal Native, perhaps in exchange for a memento with which to remember his exotic travels. Regardless of the maker’s identity, its Haida owner may have perceived iconographic or narrative parallels to their own mythological figures that combine human and animal attributes. The carving’s presence in the museum collection reflects a shared visual culture and the extent of exchange between Northwest Coast inhabitants and Euro- American sailors.

Tags for Interactive Tag Cloud: non-canonical, ship imagery, souvenir, transformation