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Raven Hat

12 inches × 12 inches. Artist’s collection.
Carved from western red cedar,
with acrylic paint

Raven may be the most common character in Northwest Coast Native style art.

Traditionally, such as this were worn by the nobility to display their crests, such as killer whales, eagles, beavers, ravens, etc. While this carved hat displays a raven, it is not meant to represent a crest.

Ravens are prominent in Northwest Coast native mythology and regular visitors around my home. They don’t fly in flocks as do the crows, and I can pick out individual ravens by the range and character of the voices. I don’t do a good job of impersonating them, but I do get them to answer my squawks, and it keeps them curious enough to linger a while.


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Killer Whale with visor

16 inches × 16 inches. Weiser collection.
Carved from alder, with opercula of red turban
snail, human hair, and acrylic paint.

The client who commissioned this helmet was from Germany. He was developing a collection of armor from various cultures, and was fascinated with Tlingit armor. He wanted me to make him a full set, which consists of helmet, visor, leather tunic, wooden slat body armor, and slat leggings.

I agreed to make the helmet and visor, but suggested that he might have fun making the other items himself. I gave him photographs and drawings and demonstrated how to fabricate these things. He made a fine set of armor from yew wood slats laced together with small-gauge seine twine.


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Tufted Puffin

10 inches × 14 inches. Private Collections.
Carved from alder, with acrylic paint and
mountain goat hair.

Shamans sometimes utilize images of puffins, the ocean diving birds, representing passage to watery realms. Puffin beaks often adorn ceremonial clothing and regalia making a clicking sound when the wearer moves. Occasionally, puffin shapes appear in rattles and feast bowls.

I was commissioned by my friends, Tom and Linda Harris, to carve a hat representing a tufted puffin. It depicts a two-dimensional formline spread symmetrically over the surface with all its anatomy, including its head. It was in the correct anatomical order with a three-dimensional puffin secured it to the top of the hat.

Their friend, Joe Denhart, wanted one after seeing their new acquisition. I readily agreed because I wanted to try a different approach. This time I carved the hat with the three-dimensional puffin’s head on top and worked out the formline design of the body below it.


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Raven Warrior

10 inches × 10 inches. Holm collection.
Carved from alder, with horse hair
and acrylic paint.

One of my favorite paintings by Bill Holm is Raven Warrior, depicting a Tlingit war party in three canoes. A warrior stands in the bow of the lead canoe, adorned in full armor and wearing a war helmet representing a raven. I thought it would be fun to someday carve a real-life interpretation of that helmet.

When I had the opportunity to exchange one of my carvings for a painting of his depicting one my canoes, I carved this helmet. I was delighted with my painting, and when I presented the helmet to him, he said, “This is great, I finally get to see what the back looks like.”


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Helmet Visor

Width: 10 inches. Artist’s collection.
Carved from alder.

Visors like this were used in conjunction with the war helmet to protect the face. They were attached to the helmet with leather thongs, but were also were equipped with a “bite plug” made from a short loop of spruce root. While the helmet gave protection against a blow to the head, the visor protected the face from an arrow, spear, or a club. The helmet visors generally had formline designs painted or carved on them.

The small depressions at the front and top of the visor allowed the wearer a view, however limited, of the world before him, and of his adversary.

Portfolio: hats & helmets
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On the northern coast, crest hats were woven of spruce root, or carved from wood and painted with crest designs.

These hats are typical in shape to most of the hats from the central coast north, whether they were woven or carved. Woven cedar bark hats were for protection from the weather. Fine spruce root hats were made for ceremonial use, when they were often painted with formline designs of crests.

Carved crest hats are often elaborated with sculptural additions.

Raven Hat

12 inches × 12 inches. Artist’s collection.
Carved from western red cedar,
with acrylic paint

Killer Whale with visor

16 inches × 16 inches. Weiser collection.
Carved from alder, with opercula of red turban
snail, human hair, and acrylic paint.

Tufted Puffin

10 inches × 14 inches. Private Collections.
Carved from alder, with acrylic paint and
mountain goat hair.