Maori Fish Hook – New Zealand

Among their many magnificent art traditions, the Maori have long been adept at the manufacture of fish hooks. Ranging from the strictly utilitarian to purely decorative, hooks are carved variously of bone, wood, greenstone, or a combination of materials. This lovely composite trolling lure (pa kahawai), designed for use at sea, joins a barbed bone point to a wooden body faced with a plate of iridescent abalone shell. A fragment of the woven lead remains attached at the top.

On the reverse side the hook bears a written description by Robert Henry Soden Smith, keeper of the Art Library of the South Kensington Museum from 1868–1890. The library was in its earliest stages when Smith was appointed assistant keeper in 1857, and his instincts as a collector were a powerful shaping force to the institution’s development. A lover of nature in every form, Smith made a special study of freshwater shells. In antiquarian pursuits he was equally interested in English and Asian pottery, and of both he formed large collections.

Mid-19th century
Wood, abalone shell, fiber, bone
5.25” l 1” w
Provenance: Robert Henry Soden Smith; private Pittsburgh collection
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