Jay Rattle

Height: 10 inches. Artist’s collection.
Carved from alder, with human hair and
acrylic paint.

This rattle represents a shaman on one side and a Stellar’s jay on the other.

Steller’s jays are very special to me. Generations of them have come for breakfast at my deck railing for the last 24 years. The first year after I built my home, a female came every morning to my back door. She would somehow manage to fly away with three pieces of dog kibble at a time in her beak, bury them under the alder leaves, and return for more. She and her mate eventually taught three of their fledglings to do the same. Jays are also good impersonators. I have heard them imitate red-tailed hawks, tree frogs, rufous-sided towhees, and even my daughter’s cockatiel.

Salmon Rattle

Height: 12 inches.
Terry Terrano collection.
Carved from Alaskan yellow cedar.

I carved this piece from Alaskan yellow cedar, a material I don’t usually use for rattles. It’s a soft wood, though not as soft as red cedar, and the sound produced is not bad. I used trade beads inside; not too many, because I don’t like overloading on
the percussion.

A major character in the children’s book entitled The Prince and The Salmon People is a shaman, or a halait in the Tsimshian language. Three of the illustrations feature the shaman using this very rattle, which I designed for the story with the idea that I would carve
it someday.

The hooked snout is indicative of a spawning male Dog Salmon. The large circles on the body and tail are exaggerated and stylized pigment spots. The underside of the salmon doesn’t represent anything in particular. It was just a fun configuration on which to do some northern formline design.

I used this rattle as a model for my drawings of the rattle used by the shaman in the story “The Prince and the Salmon People”.

Moth Rattle

Height: 11 inches. Artist’s collection.
Carved from yellow cedar, with white horse hair and wild cherry bark.

This was inspired by the moth puppets I did for the Carter family’s performance of Makah stories featuring the “Tales of Quati,” in which the moths steal Quati’s salmon that roasted by the fire while
he slept.

When I had completed the heads of the moth puppets, I liked their whimsical features so much that I carved a rattle with the same face on one side. On the reverse side I put a stylized version of the moth’s wings, in northern-style form line design, painted white and carved in low relief. The moth’s arms are holding a little
human being.

While this moth is a pest to farmers, it is part of our ecosystem and quite beautiful, if observed up-close. The antennae, for example, unlike those of butterflies, are lacy, something like the down feathers of a bird. Their caterpillars are white wooly bears
in summer.

Skull Rattle

Height: 12 inches.
Artist's collection.
Bronze and horse hair.

Making this globular rattle was an example for my students—that an artist must realize there is a skull under the skin.

I did the skull structure similar to a stylized Nuxalk human face mask with the flesh removed. The rule would hold true if the sculpture was Tlingit, Yoruba or that of the Sepik River artists.

The original wooden rattle was stolen but fortunately I had cast a mold. Three rattles were cast in bronze and I kept the third one, pictured. The halves of the rattle are welded together with B-Bs rather than trade beads and the handle is wrapped with strips of wild cherry bark that I use on all of my rattle handles. I like using something organic on them.

Portfolio: rattles
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Rattles were and are used in most ceremonies for a variety of reasons, by shaman in a curing ceremony and by attendants accompanying a dancer around the dance floor.

There are basically two shapes of rattles in this art form: globular, and those that are shaped as various animals.

Rattles are generally carved from hard wood such as yew, maple, or alder because the walls can be carved thinner, making for a better percussive sound (though it’s never very loud). The Gitk’san word for the round, or globular, rattle is “se’x se’x” (my spelling) and means the sound of the tide, which it can resemble as the rattle is rotated by the movement of the wrist, causing the beads or small pebbles on the inside to roll around inside. Rattles were used by shaman in their curing ceremonies and by attendants accompanying dancers in a ceremony.

Jay Rattle

Height: 10 inches. Artist’s collection.
Carved from alder, with human hair and
acrylic paint.

Salmon Rattle

Height: 12 inches.
Terry Terrano collection.
Carved from Alaskan yellow cedar.

Moth Rattle

Height: 11 inches. Artist’s collection.
Carved from yellow cedar, with white horse hair and wild cherry bark.