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Nutka Hat

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Dated: 1775-1800

Cultural Context: Nutka (Nuu-chah-nulth) style.

Origin: Vancouver Island (British Columbia, Canada)

Medium: Vegetable fibre [cedar bark and spruce root]; Feather [spine]

Technique: Woven

Dimensions: Height = 30 cm; Diameter = 30 cm

Inventory no.: 13570

Hat made of vegetable fibre and the spines of feathers. It has a truncated cone shape with a bulbous top. It has a double structure; the inner piece is made of vegetable fibre, while the outer piece is made of vegetable fibre with feather spines. The outside displays a figurative decoration of boats with several crew members, the first standing with a harpoon in his hand as he hunts a killer whale.

This specimen has the characteristic shape of the hats made by the Nuu-chah-nulth of the Northwest Coast of North America and is a good example of the quality and technical perfection developed by some groups in this region in the production of this type of piece. In addition to protecting the wearer from the rain, these hats had a social and ritual purpose, as they could only be worn by the leaders of the community, who were also responsible for leading the hunt for marine mammals such as whales. This dangerous activity was one of the most significant for this culture and was preceded by propitiatory rituals in an attempt to bring luck and protect the members of the community who participated in the hunt. The purpose of the smaller boats was to spot the animals and alert the others of their location, while the larger ones were in charge of harpooning them.

A chemical analysis of this piece determined that the white fibres corresponded to the spines of bird feathers. This was an interesting finding, as to date, no similar parallels have been found in other collections. José Mociño, one of the 18th century Spanish explorers, wrote about the use of this material among the Nutka to make hats.

This piece is one of a group of works collected during the course of the various Spanish scientific expeditions that reached the Northwest Coast of North America in the last third of the 18th century.