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Arts of North America

Art created in North America includes objects made by native cultures of the present-day United States and Canada; paintings and decorative arts produced during colonial times; 18th- and 19th-century masterpieces; and the work of contemporary artists and photographers.

British Columbia, Vancouver Island
Sea Lion Feast Bowl
Mid-19th century
Wood and paint

15 ½ x 53 ½ x 17 inches

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Museum purchase

Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, & the Americas

Arts of North America

The Kwakiutl culture of the Northwest Coast of North America was well known for its woodworking tradition. Large feast bowls were frequently carved in the shapes of animals. This bowl represents a fierce sea lion with an eagle head as its tail.

The sea lion and eagle were important animal ancestors. As such, they appeared frequently on totem poles and artworks. The powerful sea lion was respected yet hunted. It was valuable for its thick, warm pelt and intestines that were used for bow strings, and as an oil and food source.

Feast bowls were used by the Kwakiutl at potlatches, or gift-giving festivals. Potlatches included dances, performances, a gift exchange, and feasting. The skill of carvers could raise ordinary objects to the status of art. This bowl is such a work.