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or Haida
or Tsimshian
Copper with pigment
Made in
British Columbia, Canada, North and Central America
Alaska, United States, North and Central America
Coins & currency, metalwork, sculpture
Current Location
On View, Gallery 326
43 3/4 x 30 x 1 3/4 in. (111.1 x 76.2 x 4.4 cm)
Credit Line
Gift of Morton D. May
Public Domain
Object Number
Etched from the blackened surface with a fine-pointed tool, the image of a bird spans the convex top of this copper. Many Northwest Coast groups made coppers for display. An unattributed master artist worked this sheet of rolled copper in the typical manner: flaring its top, hammering the edges, and beating it over a form to achieve ridges at bottom. As representations of immense wealth, coppers appeared in elaborate performances at feasts. The large size and painting on back distinguish this copper. When compared to decoration on the front, the style of this painted bird indicates the labor of a second, more southerly artist. Coppers circulated between rivals and allies, their value increasing as they changed hands. The accumulation of imagery here likely relates to a long history of exchange, where a new owner added his own design to this copper.
Private Collection, Fort Rupert, British Columbia, Canada

- 1967
Lucy Brown, Alert Bay, British Columbia, Canada [1]

1967 - 1982
Morton D. May, St. Louis, MO, USA, purchased from Lucy Brown, through agent James Economos [2]

1982 -
Saint Louis Art Museum, given by Morton D. May [3]

[1] An invoice dated June 23, 1967 notes payment to Lucy Brown at Alert Bay, BC. The invoice describes the object as "one large copper shield / Kwakiutl ca. 1800", and includes the note that "The copper shield painted on both sides once belong [sic] to a family in Fort Rupert and is reputed to be over one hundred and fifty years old" [SLAM document files].

[2] The June 23, 1967 invoice records the purchase. In an email dated July 26, 2008, James Economos writes: "Though I recall the copper I'm not sure whether it came from Lucy Brown...If the Lucy Brown receipt shows the copper then I collected it at the same time as the mask [269:1982]" [SLAM document files].

[3] A letter dated November 29, 1982 from Morton D. May to James D. Burke, director of the Saint Louis Art Museum, includes the offer of this object as part of a larger donation [Director's Office, Donor Files, Archives, Saint Louis Art Museum]. Minutes of the Acquisitions and Loans Committee of the Board of Trustees, Saint Louis Art Museum, December 17, 1982.
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