Ae
Tommy Joseph worked at the Sitka National Historic Park (Totem Park) for 21 years. As the 200th anniversary for the 1884 battle against the Russians was coming up, he began doing a lot of research and created his first Tlingit war helm. "I just kind of got into a streak into figuring out how these things were made," he said. "The more I learned, the more I wanted to know. The next thing you know I made 30 helmets. I set out to make just one."
The art of Tlingit armor 042413 AE 1 Capital City Weekly Tommy Joseph worked at the Sitka National Historic Park (Totem Park) for 21 years. As the 200th anniversary for the 1884 battle against the Russians was coming up, he began doing a lot of research and created his first Tlingit war helm. "I just kind of got into a streak into figuring out how these things were made," he said. "The more I learned, the more I wanted to know. The next thing you know I made 30 helmets. I set out to make just one."

The art of Tlingit armor

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Story last updated at 4/24/2013 - 2:39 pm

The art of Tlingit armor

THE COLLAR

The art: Carved from yew wood, with snail operculum embedded into the front.

Tradition: The collar piece is worn in front of the warrior's face. It is held in place by a mouth piece, typically also made from wood. There are traditionally two eye holes, and a nose indent carved into the piece. Usually these pieces had some kind of formline design carved or painted - or both on it.

Joseph said the wood is steam bent to create the wrap-around form.

The operculum was found on about one quarter of the historical pieces Joseph viewed.

They also had heavy hide sewn onto the bottom so a dagger couldn't slip through easily.

THE BODY ARMOR

The art: Elk hide armor, with yew wood slat armor on top. Joseph hand made the sinew from Sitka deer, which ties the slats together.

Tradition: The armor is meant to protect against spears, daggers and war clubs. Most hide armor was two-ply. Some had formline art either inside or outside. Slat armor was sewn under the collar of the hide armor, additional protection against neck attacks.

Slat armor phased out with the Russian trade period, when Chinese coins entered the battle field. Joseph said the coins were easy to use because they already had holes punched into the center, and was less time consuming than weaving sinew around wooden slats. It still offered sturdy protection.

Joseph said that because of the layering, it even protected the warriors against early musket fire.

THE WEAPONRY

The art: The dagger is a traditional copper blade, with a wooden handled carved into a brown bear, with an abalone inlay.

The bow is carved from yew.

Tradition: Joseph said the Tlingits used copper before the Europeans arrived. Daggers were later made with steel as trade increased. Typically pieces had intricately designed handles.

Joseph found some war clubs that had sea lion teeth embedded into the end piece.

THE SHOW

Sitka artist and carver Tommy Joseph's solo exhibit, "Rainforest Warriors," is on display at the Alaska State Museum through Oct. 12.

Joseph started working on the project in 2009.

THE WAR HELMET

The art: Carved from yew wood with the image of a female (the piece on the left).

"There are 92 known historic Tlingit war helmets out there in museum and private collections. Only one of them has a female on it. That's what inspired me to make this one," said artist Tommy Joseph.

Tradition: Joseph said Tlingit war helmets usually feature land or marine mammals, and sometimes humans or "supernatural" creatures - that is, a mixture of human and animal.

The helms are typically made from spruce burl, but some were carved in maple, and those that had hide cured into the neck were typically carved from red cedar.

THE LEGGINGS AND SHOES

The art: Hide leggings and moccasins.

Tradition: Joseph's research found very little slat armor used on leggings, though there were a few pieces.

Joseph said a lot of paintings show bare-legged and barefoot warriors, but he believes that doesn't make much sense. Moccasin leggings, boots or shoes were the standard.

THE ARTIST

Tommy Joseph worked at the Sitka National Historic Park (Totem Park) for 21 years. As the 200th anniversary for the 1884 battle against the Russians was coming up, he began doing a lot of research and created his first Tlingit war helm.

"I just kind of got into a streak into figuring out how these things were made," he said. "The more I learned, the more I wanted to know. The next thing you know I made 30 helmets. I set out to make just one."

Joseph received a grant, and four years ago he took an 11 month trip to East Coast, West Coast, and several European museums, searching for Alaskan or Tlingit armor.

Of the 92 known war helmets, he's seen 55. Joseph would like to see the rest.

Joseph has tried on all of his creations, and finds them to be more flexible than one would imagine.


Loading...