Figural comb

Archives | Alaska

Figural comb

Alaska

Thule Culture
Archaic Eskimo

Marine ivory
Prior to the 18th century
Height : 4 ¼ in. (11 cm)

Ex collection Alain de Monbrison, Paris

Exhibited and published
“Espíritus del Agua” plate 10 page 80
Fundación La Caixa, Madrid & Barcelona 1999 – 2000

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This sculpture, depicting a human figure with both arms around the head is intensely poetic. The lower end of the carving is in the shape of a comb.
It carries nearly identical form and design on both sides except for the shape of the mouth. The stylized face features are at once intensely expressive and quite spare. Geometric motifs, incised with great finesse, adorn the surface.

This carving was first a utilitarian artefact: the comb was notably used in the preparation of bear fur and skins, as well as for combing hair.
This ingenious utilitarian object is here elevated to the level of a work of fine art and takes on an eminently ritual character.

This type of refined figural comb is exceedingly rare in Arctic art. Another related example is in the collections of the Churchill Itsanitaq Museum, formerly known as the Eskimo Museum, in Manitoba, Canada (inventory EM 20). Their comb was collected in Pelly Bay, an Arctic waterway in Kitikmeot Region, Nunavut, Canada.
This demonstrates the migrations as well as the land and coastal occupation by Arctic people from Eastern Siberia & Alaska all the way to Greenland during the Thule civilization (12th-18th century)

It was believed that decorated objects, through their beauty, attracted the prey and at the same time paid tribute to its spirit. As noted by the Princeton University Art Museum (see “Art of the Hunt”) the beautifully balanced and elegantly (…) functional tools (…) were incised with spirit images and designs that honored the animals the hunters sought.
This archaic carving is redolent with sensitivity and poetry.
This comb was exhibited and published in the reference museum show and book “Espíritus del Agua”, Fundación La Caixa, Madrid & Barcelona 1999 – 2000

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