The linked ring-and-dot engraving and the form on the face place the origin of this piece somewhere in the Yukon-Kuskokwim delta area, perhaps Nunivak Island, where a belt ornament with similar features was collected by Nelson (Fitzhugh and Kaplan, 1982: fig. 241). The function of this object is less easy to determine. The body has been hollowed, and the spaces between the limbs cleared, by a series of wide-gauge drill holes. Transverse perforations, not aligned, pierce the sides of the body. They were doubtless for bindings, and the comfortable way in which the figure fits the grip of a small hand suggests that it is the handle of a large knife or other implement, though the form is atypical.
Part human, part animal (caribou?), the figure could represent a transformed shaman or an inua spirit (ibid.: 14). The mouth is pierced and there are drill holes for ears and nostrils. The engraved designs are the same on both sides.
Steven Hooper, 1997
Entry taken from Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Collection, Vol. 2: Pacific, African and Native North American Art, edited by Steven Hooper (Yale University Press, 1997) p. 240.
Purchased by Lisa Sainsbury from H. Reisser in 1961 as a gift for Robert Sainsbury.
Donated to the Sainsbury Centre, University of East Anglia in 1973 as part of the original gift.
More from the collection
Model for Crescent Wing extension to Sainsbury Centre
Electrical components, Metal, Paint, Plastic
h 26 x w 93 x d 41.3 cm