Miniature Grease Bowl Tlingit or Haida c. 1800 Hardwood 3 ½” Long Small, beautifully refined bowls such as this are one of the great visual deceptions of Northwest Coast art: Bowls carved to this same traditional form and embellished with two-dimensional design to the same or a similar degree are often quite large, as much as 14 or 15 inches in width. This elegant miniature, however, is barely as wide as the palm of an average human hand. Saturated with the food condiment Eulachon oil, the vessel’s surface has been oxidized nearly black. Eulachon oil was an important item of diet and trade from aboriginal times to the present. Eulachon, also known as candlefish, are small smelt-like fish that live in deep waters throughout the year. In the early spring they migrate into the tidal reaches of mainland rivers to spawn, where they are caught, usually in nets. Thousands of the little fish are eaten fresh, hung to smoke and dry for preservation, or made into oil. The fish ferment in shallow pits lined with wood for up to 10 or 12 days and are then simmered in large vats of water where they break apart and their oil rises to the surface to be skimmed, filtered and stored. Special ‘grease bowls’ were carved to distribute and serve this light-toned oils. Some were of a size suitable for groups of guests and small bowls like this one were made for personal use as an everyday employment with meals of dried fish or roots. This particular personal grease bowl is an outstanding example of its kind. The refinement of the design composition and the execution its relief-carving are both signs of a skilled master’s hand. The classic, angular style of the design forms is indicative of an early timeframe that could extend well back into the late eighteenth century. The archaic style formline patterns appear to depict a bird image. Such a bowl is a remarkable tactile experience to use, cradled comfortably in a single hand for easy dipping of dried halibut strips for a memorable meal. In addition to its value as a foodstuff, Eulachon oil is also touted for its medicinal properties. Elder Native people often credit oil consumption for long life and healthy digestion.