Skip Navigation

Potlatch Figure

Arts of the Americas

In the early 1900s this Northwest Coast potlatch figure would have been called "primitive" art, as if it were a simpler version of European-derived art. However, the Native American artist who carved this figure was following the formal artistic traditions of Kwakwaka'wakw society. Potlatch figures were place outside a chief's large house during a potlatch to emphasize his power. At a potlatch, a celebration held for occasions such as births, deaths, marriages, and treaty signings, the chief gave away much of his valuable belongings to the attendees, affirming his wealth and power and obligating the recipients to reciprocate at some future time.

MEDIUM Wood, beads, pigment
DATES 19th century
DIMENSIONS 43 x 14 3/8 x 8 in. (109.2 x 36.5 x 20.3 cm)
COLLECTIONS Arts of the Americas
CREDIT LINE Brooklyn Museum Collection
CATALOGUE DESCRIPTION Male potlatch figure with head turned in profile. Facial features and ears are clearly delineated; pupils of eyes are indicated by black beads, and there is a hole in the center of each bead. The mouth is partially open. Traces of red and black paint remain on the face, and on headband on upperpart of forehead. The top of the head is flat. The torso lacks arms and lower part of legs. Adze-like marks appear on torso, neck and back of head. These figures were generally used during potlatches and early photographs record that they were sometimes dressed with robes or blankets perhaps signifying status or wealth of the person holding the potlatch.
MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
Not every record you will find here is complete. More information is available for some works than for others, and some entries have been updated more recently. Records are frequently reviewed and revised, and we welcome any additional information you might have.