Tuesday, 25 January 2011

A bit of a mystery?

Do you know anything about this figure?  What was its function?  It has been on display in the Scoresby collection since at least 1990, but perhaps since 1823.  It is described in the catalogue as being made of skin, wetted and stretched over wood, probably North American.  It is labeled as the figure from a model kayak.

We were alerted to the figure’s strangeness by a visiting Alaskan researcher who commented that she had never seen anything like it and suggested we seek expert advice.  We have contacted various museums with Arctic collections but so far to no avail.  The Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center and the New Bedford Whaling Museum have seen nothing similar.
The figure is 40 cm (18 inches) tall and the oval base is approx 15 x 12 cm.  It feels surprisingly heavy, at around 3 to 4 lb.   Close examination shows several pieces of metal, including a nail sticking out near the top of the head.  The arms are jointed at the shoulders and may be attached with metal.  It looks as if the skin is attached with small tacks and there is no trace of stitching.  The skin over the top of the head is blackish.  The oval incision on the chest is deliberate and goes right through the skin in places. In several places there are marks of ?hessian on the skin, as if the figure was wrapped in cloth while the skin was wet.
Our figure is odd because wood is scarce in Polar regions, so a heavy wooden object is unusual and perhaps significant.  Arctic peoples moved frequently so their possessions were light and portable.  Kayaks and larger boats were made from sealskin.   The materials, workmanship and appearance are not European looking and are probably circumpolar if not Inuit.

The Museum would love to hear from you if you have any information about our strange figure, or if you have seen anything similar.

(This article was written by Fiona Barnard)

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