Seal or Halibut Club Tlingit c. 1880-1900 Hardwood 23” Long Seal and fish clubs are related to a war club tradition of beautifully decorated weapons. In hunting sea mammals and catching large salmon or halibut (which can reach sizes over 400 pounds), it was important to prevent the animal or fish from thrashing about and upsetting the hunter’s or fisherman’s canoe. A solid strike with a stout club was good insurance. Though the long hefty club has a lethal purpose, the sculpture and design work that embellish such tools also pays honor to the prey and its sacrifice. Like many food gathering clubs of this kind, this piece is carved into a sea lion form. The sea lion was seen as a powerful hunter with the free run of the seas; graceful, strong and fast. The sea lion nearly always caught its prey and so made an appropriately hopeful image for a hunting implement. On the Northwest Coast, certain masterful, iconic objects have always inspired successive versions of themselves. We see masks, bowls—nearly every type of object—when done with a master’s hand, that due to their cultural appreciation and notoriety, spawned emulations done by others. By this successive process, subgroups of object types have developed a continuity, such as seal bowls, raven rattles, and seal or fish clubs carved with a sea lion image. Each version has been created by an individual, and though there is the iconographic similarity, each example has unique characteristics and details that are new to that sculpture. This club follows the basic form of the sea lion type, with a large head on the tip and a straight body form with the tail and rear flippers terminating at the handle end. One can make out the pectoral flippers, ribs, hind flippers, and the unique addition of a reclining human on the back of the creature with its head nested between the rear flippers. The human figure is not typical of such a club, and most likely relates to the family history of the club’s original owner. The image may commemorate an ancestor with a special skill in hunting or fishing, calling on its spirit for assistance in the work of food gathering. This long slender image has a marvelous traditional look to it, with strong traditional characteristics overall, but especially in the sculpture of the face. The two-dimensional design work on this club displays characteristics that indicate it was most likely done in the fourth quarter of the nineteenth century. The designs lack the true formlines of an older, more traditional carving, yet the essential parts pretty well follow the type of composition that would be seen in a classic period work. Northwest Coast artists started young, under the tutelage of a clan uncle or other close relative from their mother’s (matrilineal) side. During this time they learn the visual language of their ancestors, as it was known by their mentors and earlier generations. As each new generation progressed in their work, they incorporated a certain amount of new ideas and ways of embellishing the old styles, which leads to an evolving art tradition that diverges in numerous directions and a multitude of expanding locations. After the tragedies of the late contact and settlement period of the second half of the nineteenth century, the old systems of apprenticeship and the passing on of the terms and elements of the traditional visual language were greatly diminished, and even wiped out in some areas. Artists were called on to create objects for traditional purposes, from hunting to ceremonial occasions. With less mentoring and development in the art tradition, later artists more or less had to come up with their own versions of the older styles, based on the work of their predecessors as much as they were able. These kinds of developmental changes are the essence of the evolution that enables one to attribute relative dates of manufacture to objects with no known history.