The oblong shape of the bowl corresponds to the general proportions of a young adult beaver lying on its back. Even the short, broad head is carved out and might have functioned as a pouring lip to serve individual guests when this large bowl was used at feasts. The end opposite the head is marked by a realistically carved beaver tail complete with engraved crosshatching that evokes the texture of this part of the animal's body. Signs of wear on the tail suggest that it was utilized as a handle to hold or carry the bowl. These anatomical references are completed by indications of the four legs carved in shallow relief on the exterior sides of the bowl.
This object is a prime example of the sculptural conception of Great Lakes animal effigy bowls in which the carved elements that represent the animal are not merely attached to the bowl as additive decoration but are sculpturally and conceptually integrated with the form of the functional object. This congruence of forms establishes the bowl as the body of the animal and clarifies our perception of the total object as a sculptural metaphor.
Adapted from E.M. Maurer, "Representational and Symbolic Forms in Great Lakes Area Wooden Sculpture." Bulletin of the DIA 62, no. 1 (1986): 7-17, fig. 8.
Artist probably Ojibwa, Native American
  • Bowl in the Form of a Beaver
Date between 1790 and 1800
Medium Wood
Dimensions Overall: 6 1/2 × 25 5/8 × 13 1/4 inches (16.5 × 65.1 × 33.7 cm)
Credit Line City of Detroit Purchase
Accession Number 51.9
Department Africa, Oceania & Indigenous Americas
On View Native American S130, Level 1 (see map)
Collected by Alexander Harrow (1755-1811), British naval officer on the Great Lakes and pioneer settler on the St. Clair River above Algonac (Michigan, USA);
by 1950, by descent to Washington C. Harrow (Detroit, Michigan, USA);
ca.1951, sold by the family (George J. Heckroth, dealer, Royal Oak, Michigan, USA);
1951-present, purchased 1951 by the Detroit Institute of Arts (Detroit, Michigan, USA)
Feder, Norman. Two Hundred Years of North American Indian Art. Exh. cat., Whitney Museum of American Art. New York, 1971, no. 78.

Maurer, E.M. "Representational and Symbolic Forms in Great Lakes Area Wooden Sculpture." Bulletin of the DIA 62, no. 1 (1986): 7-17, fig. 8.

The Spirit Sings: Artistic Traditions of Canada’s First Peoples. Exh. cat., Glenbow Museum. Calgary, Alberta, Canada, 1987, no. W101.