kaayhla (Feast Bowl)

About this object

History of use

Baleen is part of the filter-feeding structure inside the mouths of baleen whales. Made of keratin (like human fingernails), the plates and bristles of this strong material were used on the Northwest Coast to make a variety of items such as containers, toggles, and components of frontlet headdresses. It is rare, however, to see a length of baleen plate used to create a rectangular, steam-bent food dish like this one.

Iconographic meaning

The meticulously carved imagery is archaic in style -- the positive forms are wide and somewhat squared, the negative relief areas are minimal -- as would be characteristic of the period in which this piece was made. Wing-like elements and clawed feet on the sides, and a face with ears and a beaked, toothy mouth on the front, hint that a supernatural sky being -- likely an eagle -- is represented on this elegant vessel.

Specific techniques

The dish is constructed just like wooden bentwood dishes, where kerfs or grooves are cut into a board where the corners will be, and the wood is steamed and bent into shape, the final corner pegged or sewn shut and a base attached. Here too, it appears that shallow kerfs were sliced part way through the thin baleen before it was boiled or steam bent; the last corner is sewn with what appears to be fine sinew, and the wooden base attached with what may be spruce root.

Physical description

Bent-baleen feast bowl, or feast dish. Sides of baleen curve slightly inwards. All sides have distributive bird (eagle?) imagery, opposite sides are split images. The base is wood. Sinew lashings.