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Cedar Mat

Curated Submission
British Columbia, Canada
Circa 1880
DIMENSIONS in centimetres
168 x 69.5
Materials & techniques
Cedar bark, plant dye; Woven, painted
Textile Museum of Canada, purchased with the assistance of a grant from Communications Canada, 1988
Textile Museum of Canada T88.0786

The peoples of the Northwest Coast used mats in their daily life in a variety of ways. Mats were often placed within the house on walls and in doorways to prevent drafts and rain. They were used as cushions in canoes, to kneel on while digging clams, for cleaning fish, or for spreading out berries to dry. Several ceremonial and ritual occasions involved using cedar bark mats such as this elaborate example. Chiefs of high rank were welcomed by being seated on a sturdy bark mat and carried up to the host chief’s house. Mats were used for seating at feasts and as Potlatch gifts. In some areas a person stood on a mat during a naming ceremony.

Mats were woven by women; designs ranged from stripes and plaids (using bark dyed black and red) to more complex weaves of patterned squares, some with painted designs. The painting on this mat is attributed to Johnny Kit Elswa. He was a young Haida who accompanied Judge James Swan, an agent of the Smithsonian, to the Queen Charlotte Islands in 1883, as his translator. The image of a killer whale (orca) and wolf heads is possibly a representation of a Haida myth, which tells the story of a great wolf who was such a savage and wasteful hunter that shamans transformed it into a killer whale so it would not kill all the animals of the land.

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