Canoe prow figure (Nguzu Nguzu)

Photo: Paul Macapia

Canoe prow figure (Nguzu Nguzu)

19th century

Originally, this figure was a prominent guardian for a canoe frequently filled with men whose faces were similarly decorated with swirls of paint and large ear ornaments. The flashing white inlay comes from cut pieces of chambered-nautilus shell. Concentrating on the task at hand, this figure never closes his eyes. Up to thirty-five men would occupy the canoe and rely on this figure to guide them through unknown waters, reefs, tight passages, and fend off enemy forces that lived in the deep.
Wood, nautilus shell
10 5/8 x 7 7/8 in. (26.99 x 20 cm)
L.: 5 in.
Gift of Katherine White and the Boeing Company
Provenance: Collection of John Wise (1902-1981), New York, by 1962; sold to Katherine White (1929-1980), Seattle, Washington, Feb. 1962
Photo: Paul Macapia
Not currently on view


Exhibition HistorySeattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, Hero/Antihero, Dec. 21, 2002 - Aug. 17, 2003.

Seattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, Our Blue Planet: Global Visions of Water, Mar. 18 - May 30, 2022.

Published ReferencesKahn, Miriam. "Art of Oceania, Mesoamerica, and the Andes." In Selected Works, pp. 55-58. Seattle: Seattle Art Museum, 1991; p. 57, reproduced.

Seattle Art Museum respectfully acknowledges that we are on Indigenous land, the traditional territories of the Coast Salish people. We honor our ongoing connection to these communities past, present, and future.

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