Nuu-chah-nulth Hand Club - British Columbia

This fine Nuu-chah-nulth (Nootka) whalebone hand club depicts a thunderbird image in profile at the base of its paddle-like blade, carved with a strongly curved beak and avian “headdress.” The surmounting bird head is elegantly designed with well-executed incising to indicate the beak and other features. A small lug is found on the side of the pommel, possibly for the attachment of a wrist cord.

The blade of the club is enhanced by rows of incised circles on both sides. Engraved lines border the rows along their full extent, creating a band motif. Variations on this central band design are found on other thunderbird clubs, sometimes with double rows or alternating movements of the border lines, placing the present motifs within an identifiable canon. The tip of the blade is very bluntly rounded with a semicircular edge.

Few clubs of this type exhibit the rich, dark brown color seen here, suggesting this example saw many years of use and exposure to smoky house interiors. It may also be possible that it spent some of its life buried in the ground, and was colored by elements in the soil. 

A similar example, reputedly belonging to Maquinna, chief of the Mowachaht Nuu-chah-nulth, and from the renowned dealer/collector George Terasaki, sold at Sotheby’s in November 2019 and was dated to circa 1802.

Late 18th or early 19th century
21 5/8” h
- John J. Klejman, New York
- Faith-Dorian and Martin Wright Collection, New York, acquired from the above on May 29, 1968
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