King’s Lynn-raised explorer George Vancouver sailed, from the age of fourteen, on two voyages with Captain Cook. From 1791 to 1795 Vancouver commanded HMS Discovery on an epic voyage ranging from Australia to the Northwest Coast of North America, where one of his officers collected this Tlingit comb at Cross Sound in what is now southern Alaska.
Made from traded caribou antler by a very skilled carver, this is one of the earliest documented pieces to have been collected from the Tlingit people.
The indigenous First Nations peoples of the Northwest Coast believed that animal spirits could transform themselves into people, and that shamans could control these powers for human use. Their art abounds in creatures (birds, bears, beavers, wolves) with humanoid features. The bird on the handle of this comb seems part mythic raven and part person.
Facts & figures
Comb. North America, Northwest Coast, Cross Sound: Tlingit. Late 18th century. Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Collection. UEA 875.
Caribou antler. h. 10.8 x w. 6.0 x d. 1.5 cm. Acquired 1983.
Pottery. h. 34.9 cm. Acquired 1980.
Other collection highlights
It is speculated that this fanghead became the inspiration for a drawing of a female figure by Amedeo Modigliani, which is also part of the Sainsbury Collection
Roman crouching hare
This highly naturalistic bronze sculpture of a crouching hare, with its ear back and nostrils seemingly aquiver, looks all set to spring and run, says Ian Collins