Raven and crouching figure and masks

19th century
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General Description

The raven is a ubiquitous figure in the art and mythology of the cultures of the Northwest Coast. According to legend, at the beginning of time an old man kept the sun and all the other treasures of the world in a box. Raven was born to this man's daughter, and he gave his grandfather great joy. Raven asked for his grandfather's possessions as playthings, and he received them one by one. Finally, he requested the sun and opened the Box of Daylight, and as soon as he received it, he changed from boy to raven, flying away with the sun in his beak. The skies flooded with sunlight scorched Raven's feathers, turning them from white to black. Raven dropped the sun in the sky where it benefited the entire world.

Here, the main figure of a raven is surrounded by a crouching figure and masks. The purpose of this handsome carving of walrus ivory remains unclear—it has been described as a knife handle or a cup—but it most certainly would have conferred considerable esteem upon its owner. Compositionally it is related to spoons fashioned from horn and to figures carved from argillite. Both materials were readily available to the Haida people of the Queen Charlotte Islands off the coast of British Columbia. The tusk of the walrus, however, had to come from Inuit country, several hundred miles to the north, presumably as an object of trade. Only then could it have come to the Haida master who transformed it into an image of radiant beauty.

Adapted from

  • Bonnie Pitman, ed., "Raven and crouching figure and masks (1977.28.McD)," in Dallas Museum of Art: A Guide to the Collection (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2012), 58.

  • Jay Gates, "Raven and crouching figure (1977.28.McD)," in Dallas Museum of Art: A Guide to the Collection, ed. Suzanne Kotz (Dallas, TX: Dallas Museum of Art, 1997), 201.

  • Anne R. Bromberg, Dallas Museum of Art: Selected Works (Dallas, TX: Dallas Museum of Art, 1983), 49.

  • Carol Robbins, Label text [1977.28.McD], A. H. Meadows Galleries.