Objects from Haida Gwaii chosen by provincial museum

  • Sep. 29, 2014 2:00 p.m.

Curators, archivists, and other experts from the Royal BC Museum agree that some of the most interesting objects in the province originated on Haida Gwaii. The museum launched an online collection last Thursday (September 11), which features 100 of the most fascinating and seldom seen objects in the province, including at least eight from on islands. “Regardless of size or frame, each object has a compelling story and special connection to a place in British Columbia or period in our history,” said the RBCM of the collection. Several of Emily Carr’s paintings were selected to be part of the collection because they celebrate BC’s complex history and rich natural and cultural heritage, including one of her most popular works, Tanoo, Q.C.I. This five foot long monumental painting depicts the Haida village Tanu, located along the east coast of what is now Gwaii Haanas. Ms Carr portrayed the longhouses and poles in oil and on canvas. At the time of her visit, around 1913, the village was uninhabited. “In recognition of the immense cultural, political and historical impact of First Nations peoples on British Columbia, 24 of the objects are First Nations artifacts or artwork, both ceremonial and contemporary,” said the museum. Four pieces of Haida artwork, created over the span of 100 years, are featured in the collection. Each is a different material: gold, silver, wood, or argillite, showcasing the breadth of Haida design. A carved wooden plaque, which was once part of a headdress adorned with flicker feathers, sea lion whiskers and a train of ermine skins, stands alone as an object of interest. It is attributed to Haida carver Simeon sdiihldaa, who lived in Old Massett from 1799 to 1889. An argillite chest carved by Charles Edenshaw sometime before 1920 is also included in the collection. The lid depicts the story of raven discovering humankind in a cockle shell, with raven transforming between his human and bird forms. A small gold chest carved by Bill Reid is the only non-argillite work to be included in the Royal BC Museum’s Haida argillite exhibit. This unique piece was created in 1971, combining a novel material with traditional Haida formline design. Robert Davidson’s silver bracelet Happy Negative Spaces was created in 1980, “beautifully designed and executed” and included in the collection because it is considered “one of his most important early abstract works.” The connection these five artistic objects have to Haida Gwaii is unmistakable, but the RBCM’s collection also contains astonishing items from land and sea that islanders may not recognize from their home. Bubblegum coral, which thrives in the Northeast Pacific, is a soft coral of ecological importance and slow growth that is considered the ‘old growth trees of the sea’. The specimen featured in the RBCM collection was harvested in 1991, just south of Moresby Island at a depth between 100 and 125 metres. Ethnobotanist Nancy Turner donated her plant collections to the RBCM herbarium, which included a branch of common juniper (Juniperus communis L.) collected while she was on Haida Gwaii in 1970. This species of shrub can be found in boggy areas around the islands and has landed itself in the RBCM’s 100 Objects of Interest. Finally, those scrolling through the collection can see a marvel of Haida Gwaii fauna that no one will ever see roaming the islands again. “This taxidermy mount of a Dawson’s Caribou (Rangifer tarandus dawsoni) is one of only five specimens in the world. All are at the Royal BC Museum,” said the RBCM. The ungulate was only known to live on the plateau around Virago Sound at the north end of Graham Island. According to the RBCM description, three of the last four ever seen were shot in 1908. Although tracks were spotted as late as 1935, the RBCM assumes the Dawson’s Caribou was extinct before then. “The shortlist of 100 was made subjectively, but each object speaks to the living landscapes and cultures of British Columbia,” said the RBCM, “Seen collectively, they represent British Columbia’s range of ecosystems and climate, the province’s astonishing abundance of flora and fauna and the complex histories of the people who have settled here over millenia, sometimes clashing but working towards peaceful existence.” These, and the other 92 objects of interest, can be viewed on the collection website at royalbcmuseum.bc.ca/100.

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