War Helmet-Humanoid Animal Tlingit c. 1740-1800 Spruce & Paint 12 ¾” Long Tlingit carved wooden helmets were designed to protect a warrior’s head from the blows of clubs and the gashes of fighting daggers in hand-to-hand combat. They are minimally hollowed out, with a thick dome that covers the top and sides of the head. Some writers refer to the clan hats with delicately carved, thin rims as helmets, but this is a misnomer. The Lingit language has two distinctly separate names for these types of headgear, and that would seem to be the highest authority on the subject. Clan hats are carved in the form of the woven headgear made of spruce roots or cedar bark, and like war helmets, often have mask-like sculptures of clan emblem creatures integrated into the carving. That’s where the similarity ends, however, as the typical thinly carved wooden clan hat would offer little if any protection in a fight. War helmets were usually carved from spruce, a wood that is tougher and more dense than either cedar or alder, the common choices for masks and clan hats. This made for a heavier carving, but one that was more apt to stand up the anticipated abuse of the object. The carving of war helmets also includes an unexpected and little-known design characteristic: the grain, or long fibers of the wood structure (not to be confused with the pattern of the tree’s circular growth rings), is oriented from side to side, or ear to ear, as one might say, rather than front to back, as would ordinarily be the case in a forehead mask or a clan hat that features an extended snout or beak in its imagery. Running the grain from side to side makes if more difficult to carve the form and details of the sculptural clan emblems seen on most helmets, but it makes the helmet much less prone to cracking from the top down when it’s struck a blow from a frontal opponent. The life of the warrior was clearly of greater concern than the degree of effort required of the carver. This obviously aged and combat-experienced helmet exhibits all of the characteristics alluded to above. It is further imbued with not only the spirit of its maker, but also with the spirit and energy of those who wore it and received the blows and gashes that have left their marks on this venerable artifact. Helmets were originally made as the property of those who wore them in battle, and certain ones, which attained an elevated value and respect due to their roles in fights that maintained and protected the existence and strength of their clan, were raised to the status of clan ownership. They became ‘a valued and esteemed object’, known in the Lingit language as ‘at.oow. Given the survival of this helmet, despite the apparent damage that it sustained in its lifetime of use, it’s very likely that it was at some time retired from combat duties, and had attained that elevated status of ‘at.oow. Objects of ‘at.oow status were brought out on ceremonial occasions and displayed with others of their kind, including such things as clan hats, daggers and certain types of woven hats or garments including some Chilkat-style robes or tunics. Bringing out the ‘at.oow was and is intended to manifest the spirit presence of the ancestors who owned and used these objects in generations past. At funerals and memorial services, the ‘at.oow are employed to in part to assuage the grief of those who have experienced the losses that the community has come together to recognize and work through. Looking at this remarkable old helmet, one is struck by the liveliness of the image that seems to grin out from within the sculpture. Several characteristics of the carved details indicate that this work was executed early in the historic period, if not prior to the physical arrival of European and American traders and explorers. Trade goods, including iron and steel woodworking tools, arrived on the coast well before the coming of Euro-American people themselves. The very first Spanish and English explorers noted the presence of ferrous-metal blades and tools, and heard the native names for these substances, indicating a long period of familiarity with these foreign materials.