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
Fijian bird dish
This elegant shallow bowl was apparently created for drinking an intoxicating drink made from the root of the pepper plant that is still regularly drunk all over Fiji
Portrait of R. J. Sainsbury (Robert Sainsbury), Francis Bacon
Bacon produced an image that although unmistakably a portrait, succeeds as an intense physiological exercise on the human condition
Lady in Blue, Chaim Soutine
Lady in Blue is an imaginary figure – a portrait of the artist’s poetic melancholy