Soul Catcher

About this object

History of use

Oral traditions among the Tsimshian and Gitxsan indicate that soul catchers of the kind shown here were conventionally made from the femur, or shin bone, of a grizzly bear. Each end of the hollow tube flares slightly and is carved out in silhouette to represent the open mouth of a creature resembling a bear, wolf, or whale. The Gitxsan soul catcher is engraved this way on both sides and is further embellished with abalone inlay on the front. The Tsimshian soul catcher features more complex imagery, including the face and torso of a small human figure, with hands raised, engraved at the centre; the beings depicted on either end appear to have fin-like extensions above their snouts, and two clawed feet are represented on the back.

Narrative

This soul catcher circulated extensively through American and British private collections and public displays; it is said to have been collected in southeast Alaska by Rev. Robert A. Doolan, an Anglican missionary invited by Nisga’a chiefs to work among them in the 1860s. Also in the George Emmons collection, the Harry Beasley collection, the Raymond Wielgus collection (1968), and the Allen Wardwell collection, NY. Published in "Tangible Visions" (Wardwell, 1996, p 206).

Physical description

Soul catcher made of a tubular piece of grizzly bear shin bone, flared at each open end. The ends are split partway to look like open animal mouths. Eyes are carved above each mouth with incised designs to indicate nostrils. A human-like face and torso, with hands raised to his chin, is carved at top center, with two small holes drilled at either side of face.