Since our announcement on Tuesday, March 20 of the donation of a ceremonial club given as a gift or in trade to Captain James Cook 234 years ago this month by the Nuu-chah-nulth people of BC’s West Coast, we have received many kind congratulations and comments, plus a few questions. We thought it would be great to share some of the questions that have come to us – as well as their answers, if we know them!
Here are a few to get us started:
Q: “I found the Global Coverage of the club very interesting! I have previously seen one very similar to it and it was made of yew wood also. Why is the club so shiny in the photograph I found on the internet – was it varnished by a previous owner, or painted? I researched the club I previously saw many years ago and could not find one of any age, in the North American area that was similar, I did however find some similarity in Hawaii. I believed the club was carved in Canada – Yew wood does not grow in Hawaii as far as I know – but carved by someone of Hawaii & local descent. Interested in what you think…”
A (Answer by Karen Duffek, MOA Curator of Contemporary Visual Art & Pacific Northwest): “Thanks for your interesting query! There are indeed many questions surrounding this club, and we will continue to research its provenance. We’re hoping we can do a scientific analysis of a microscopic sample of the wood at some time, although the wood does feel and look like yew, and has the right weight and density.
“MOA and other museums do have a number of similar, yew-wood, hand-and-sphere clubs, somewhat sturdier in design, and formerly used
as halibut clubs — these are all much more recent than the Cook club, with the earliest dating to the late 1800s or so, and others from the first few decades of the 20th century. These objects are, from left to right, from MOA (Kwakwaka’wakw), MOA (Northwest Coast — tribe unknown), National Museum of Natural History, Washington DC (Alaska source), and Royal BC Museum (Kwakwaka’wakw):
“The Cook club has a gorgeous patina that appears to be completely natural; it’s not varnish-shiny in actuality, though there is some shininess. This is a feature of patinated yew-wood objects of some age and probably lots of handling.
“Our curator with expertise in the South Pacific does not feel there is anything closely similar there, though she did hear from a colleague that there are comparable items in the Marquesas. So I will be interested to see some photos of those. I think the motif likely does have a universal presence in different forms.”
If you have other questions or comments, please let us know! Thanks…