British Columbia, Northwest Coast
Carved wood and pigments
Length: 14 ¼ in. (36 cm)
Ex collection Roberto Matta (1911-2002)
Acquired in New York in the 1940s
Ex collection Matta family
By descent in the Matta family collection
Grand Palais Ephémère, Paris
26 Nov. - 5 Dec. 2021
This rattle was formerly in the collection of painter Roberto Matta (1911-2002). In exile in New York during World War II, Matta and the Surrealist circle became fascinated with ancient arts of North America. Shamanic masks and sculptures ignited the imagination of these artists, poets and intellectuals gathered around the tutelary figure of André Breton. Matta acquired this superb raven rattle in the 1940s in New York.
In Northwest Coast myths, a Raven spirit originally taught shamans the secrets of their crafts. On this rattle, the human figure reclining on the back of the raven represents a shaman in trance, forming alliance with animal helping spirits.
According to Allen Wardwell (see Tangible Visions, The Monacelli Press inc., New York, 1996 p. 239), the rattle was a highly important piece of shamanic equipment along the entire Northwest Coast. Its sound provided rhythm for songs, dances and chants, and attracted spirits to the séances. Wherever it was used, a supernatural presence was thought to be in attendance.
Raven rattles were used by wealthy families, chiefs and shamans. The use of a « chief’s rattle » proclaimed the shaman’s high social rank to his public.
Raven rattles such as the present example are sheer icons of ancient Northwest Coast art.