Friday, July 31, 2009

New Haida Art Obtained by SHI

The Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) recently obtained a new Haida art item for inclusion in our Special Collections Research Center (image below). This piece was carved by emerging yet accomplished artist Matthew J. Helgesen. Helgesen was born in Ketchikan, Alaska, and raised in Hydaburg, Alaska. He now lives in Ketchikan. Helgesen is Kaigani Haida of the Eagle Clan, and has studied under Warren Peele of Hydaburg and as an apprentice of Norman Jackson of Ketchikan.

The piece SHI obtained from Helgesen consists of a carved and painted war helmet modeled after an eighteenth century war helmet. War helmets, which were held as clan property, were an integral piece in a warriors’ armor for both physical and spiritual protection. After the introduction of rifles, their use was relegated to the ceremonial sphere. This helmet is a quality art piece that took great skill to create, and we are proud to add it to our collection. We plan to place it on display in our library Reading Room when a new display case we recently purchased arrives.

Regarding Helgesen’s inspiration for this helmet, it was modeled after a Tlingit war helmet that sold at a private auction in Connecticut in 2008 (image below). The Tlingit helmet, described as an eighteenth century piece, established a record price for any Native American Indian art piece ever sold at auction, coming to near $2.2 million dollars. Sadly, this Tlingit helmet was sold to a private collector and is off limits to public viewing and repatriation claims. While the loss of the Tlingit helmet is profound for the Alaska Native community, Helgesen’s piece stands as a reminder of the impressive ability found in the continuing Southeast Alaska Native artist culture.

No comments: