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1839-1920, Skidegate, British Columbia
Charles Edenshaw was the last Hereditary Chief of the Stastas Eagle clan, inheriting the title on the death of his mother’s brother in 1894. He was a vital source of information on Haida culture to the early Anthropologists - Boas and Swanton and is one of the most influential and brilliant artists of the Northwest Coast.
Edenshaw was a masterful artist, carving in argillite, wood, and ivory. He was one of the pioneers in working with metal, producing some of the first bracelets from silver and gold dollar coins. These bracelets allowed the Haida children to wear their clan crests when the early white missionaries discouraged the custom of tattooing the crest on to the wrist.
Edenshaw was uniquely placed in history, growing up in a time where European Contact was starting to establish itself and become an overbearing and disruptive force in Northwest Coast cultures. By the late 19th and early 20th century, when the Haida were threatened by smallpox epidemics and pressure from missionaries to abandon their culture, Edenshaw was at the height of his carving career. As a result he was prolific and practiced, making work for ceremony as well as for sale to European collectors.
"Charles Edenshaw is said to have earned his living entirely from his art throughout his life, not needing to supplement his income through fishing or hunting as many Haida artists did. By the time Albert Edward Edenshaw [his uncle] passed away in 1894, Charles was about fifty-five and in the prime of his artistic career. It appears from the many objects that have been attributed to him that he produced the majority of his work for sale to outsiders, but he must have made many other objects in his early years that have not yet been identified as his work." (From "Northern Haida Master Carvers" by Robin Wright)
Edenshaw’s Haida name was “Tahayghen”. He left behind a legacy of the old traditional Haida designs. His art set a precedent that continues to influence and inform Northwest Coast artists working today.