UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Tom Price (c.1860-1927) : the art and style of a Haida artist. Glatthaar, Trisha Corliss


The purpose of this thesis is to identify the art work of the Haida Indian artist Tom Price (c.l860 - 1927). It is not yet generally realized that Haida art was predominantly the product of only a small number of artists whose individual styles are distinctly recognizable. Much of the diversity in local and regional styles within Haida art can be explained by isolating and examining the works of the dozens of practising artists - discovering where and when they worked, how much they influenced the art around them, how traditional they were in their art, or how innovative. The immediate problem is to document these individual styles. Art has been collected from the Northwest Coast Indian t peoples since the late Eighteenth Century when the first explorers made trading contacts with the native people. But it was collected sporadically and at first only as a curiosity or souvenir art. In the late Nineteenth Century ethnologists began to collect the Northwest Coast Indian art for museums of anthropology and natural history. They recorded the names of artists but rarely in connection with their works of art. Only recently has Northwest Coast Indian art been shown in major art exhibits in Paris, Montreal, Vancouver, etc. And only recently have art historians realized the significance of the individual art styles within the art. The work of a few Nineteenth Century masters stands out. Museums in North America and Europe unknowlingly collected only the works of the best artists working at the time. Tom Price was one of these outstanding artists. He worked in the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries. Chapter III is a discussion of the complex and ancient tradition of Haida art with which Tom Price would have been familiar, and how it was modified in the Nineteenth Century due to increasing contact with the white man. The role of the artist in Haida society is also discussed in Chapter III, emphasizing the point that personal innovation was inherent in the art tradition. Chapter IV deals with the documented information on the life and works of Tom Price. My chief informant is Tom Price's daughter-in-law. She and other Haida people remember Tom Price as one of the artists working in Skidegate up until 1927. They remember the collectors who purchased his work, and that he went to Victoria to sell work quite frequently. But published information on Haida artists and their works, such as the descriptive works of Marius Barbeau on argillite and totem poles, are inaccurate and confused. This is partly because his informants were not familiar enough with the artists or the art styles about which he was writing. Documented information from acquisition files and museum records is equally as disappointing because the material was not collected by art historians. There is very rarely an entry in the information catalogues for the name of the artist. The exact origin of the works is often not known because museums purchased in bulk from central bargaining points such as Port Simpson or Victoria, or they purchased complete private collections. They rarely differentiated between the place of manufacture and the purchasing point in the records. Furthermore, the date in museum records may refer to the date of acquisition rather than to the date of manufacture. The significance of this is that very few Haida works of art are reliably documented and two or three sources should be consulted before an attribution is made based on the documentation which does exist. Chapter V is a series of comparisons of works of art by Tom Price and other Haida artists, some of which are documented, showing the wide range of styles possible in Haida art. In Chapter VI, I begin with documented pieces by Tom Price, and I isolate design elements, or distinctive motifs from these works. Then I compare the documented works with other similar works in terms of the design elements, the compositional arrangement of those elements, the types of crests and myths illustrated, the method of carving or painting, the dates, and the places where the works were collected, and by whom. Stylistically the works form a coherent group and the documented information tends to reinforce the hypothesis that they were all done by the same man, Tom Price. In addition to clarifying the role of the artist in Haida society, and the significance of individual artists’styles in Haida art, this thesis highlights the artistic achievements of one man. This has never been done in depth before, and it is necessary that it he done before a more realistic aesthetic appreciation of the art is possible.

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