Cedar Mat, T88.0786
Posted: Jan 8th, 2020 | Collection Spotlight

Our Object of the Week is a Haida cedar mat from British Columbia, made circa 1880.

It is checker woven using red cedar and painted with natural dyes. The painting of the killer whale and wolf heads is attributed to Johnny Kit-Elswa, a young Haida man who acted as translator for Judge James Swan, commissioned to travel to the Queen Charlotte Islands in 1883 to collect objects for the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. Among the 126 million objects in the NMNH collection are several Haida ‘Deer rib bones for preparing cedar bark’ that Swan collected on this trip.

Long strips of cedar for weaving are harvested in spring and summer. The cedar is removed in small strips to minimize harm to the tree. The dark outer bark is removed and discarded; the inner bark is stripped into thin pieces and soaked in water so it can be woven. These strips, sometimes in combination with other parts of the tree like the roots and limbs, can be woven into many different forms such as mats, capes, blankets, baskets, hats and fish nets.

Some contemporary Haida weavers working today include Rena Point Bolton, featured on the TMC Virtual Museum of Canada project Narrative Threads, and Lisa Telford, who creates pieces like ‘A Night on the Village,’ a red cedar bustier with guinea-feather trim, and ‘Evening Out,’ a pair of red and yellow cedar high heels, that comment on Indigenous identity, stereotypes and fashion.

Links: See the cedar mat in our online collection; search ‘deer rib bones’ using the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History’s online collection’s search to see images of the deer rib bark peelers Judge Swan collected in 1883; check out images of Rena Point Bolton at work on Narrative Threads and see Lisa Telford’s work on the Stonington Gallery‘s website; “Weaving Our World” by Della Cheney is a great resource on this topic; this Teacher’s Resource, published by the Canadian Heritage Information Network, has information and photos related to Haida cedar weaving as well as a list of over 60 contemporary cedar weavers.

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