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Art & Design

Kwakiutl; North American Indian, Hat, late 19th century, Museum Works of Art Fund

Kwakiutl; North American Indian


Unknown artist, Kwakiutl; North American Indian, Canada; Vancouver
Hat, late 19th century
Painted two- and three-strand-twined spruce root
Height: 17.8 cm (7 inches)
Museum Works of Art Fund 44.152

Kwakiutl people wore hats such as this one at potlatch ceremonies, a combination of feasting, dancing, and gift-giving held to reinforce social status or to commemorate events such as births or marriages. They probably learned the art of making painted hats from their northern neighbors, the Haida. The imagery on Kwakiutl hats is often derived from Haida, Tlingit, and Tsimshian cultures, but it is less rigidly executed. The painted figure on this hat may represent a sea monster. The head with prominent nostrils and mouth appears on the front and the body along the sides. Robes, masks, and hats worn by the potlatch sponsors often refer to the spirit or being that a family or clan considered the source of its status and privileges.

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