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Museums and collections


Anne Jarzabek, Volunteer Gallery Attendant
Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology 

This beautifully carved pipe comes from Haida, Queen Charlotte Islands in British Columbia. Along its length are numerous carved representations of human and animal figures. These are called totems or crests. They represent the idea of transformation of animals or humans into symbols such as wealth or wisdom. This is a belief, fundamental to the culture and art of the people of the North West coast.

Look closely at the carvings. There are representations of eagle and raven heads, human figures and bears. I can see a human figure wrestling with a killer whale. On the nearby totem pole you will see that the human figure there represents a strong man. What figures can you see on the argillite pipe?

Argillite is black shale found exclusively on Queen Charlotte Islands. It is fairly soft to carve which is why the industry that began in the 1820’s continues today. It is a desirable material due to its restricted availability. I am lucky to own a small argillite box which I treasure. I can imagine just how this argillite pipe would feel if I could hold it.

This object passed through several hands on its journey to this museum – the natives of Haida, the ship’s carpenter and finally Colonel Fieldon who donated it to the museum in 1897. Was it exchanged for goods or money? Was the original owner a person of status? So many questions, but only the Argillite Pipe knows the answers. Its beauty and its secrets make it my favourite object in the museum.