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Ask MOA: What Is This Lamp?

Ask MOA: What Is It? is your opportunity to ask MOA curators and collections staff about an artwork or other mystery object at home that you’ve always wondered about. We select certain inquiries and objects to feature online.

This featured Ask MOA case is about two carved lamps made in BC that the inquirer inherited.

Question from inquirer:

“I am inquiring of two totem poles that my father bought in 1961 in Klemtu, BC.  The artist is Charles Dudoward of Port Simpson, BC. My father passed away last year and I am slowly going through his belongings. The symbols on the totem poles are, wolf, bear, raven, black fish and frog. If you could help me or send me in the right direction as to the history of these two totem poles, it would be very much appreciated.”


Answer from Karen Duffek:

These two carved poles with lampshades are classic works by the Tsimshian artist Charles Henry Dudoward (1887–1973). They’re of the type he made for sale for tourists and collectors in the mid 20th century. Charles was the youngest son of Alfred and Mary Catherine Dudoward, of Lax Kwa’laams (Port Simpson), which is near Prince Rupert, BC. He became a hereditary chief, Wiishakes, and for many years was not only a carver but ran his own store and mail-order business.

Charles Dudoward created his carvings and paintings in a period when Indigenous people were continuing to experience the assault of ongoing assimilation efforts and oppressive federal legislation. One impact of the changing economy and Indian residential schooling was that traditional Tsimshian apprenticeship systems for artists were no longer widely practiced. Indigenous people found other ways, though, to make sure they could carry their cultural knowledge forward to future generations. Carvers like Dudoward played an important role in developing new styles and forms to continue creating works that would reflect his ancestry.

The lamps combine Dudoward’s painting (on the lampshades) with totem-pole-like wood carving. He had become known not only for his carvings but also for his hundreds of landscapes in oil, watercolour and pastel, working from historical photos by George Mercer Dawson and Edward Dossetter to record early scenes of Port Simpson and other Tsimshian communities. Through his own Thunderbird Totempole Shoppe in Port Simpson, Dudoward offered carvings like these lamps, and “Pictures on Canvas”—in various sizes and prices —with imagery ranging from naturalistic scenes to stylized Tsimshian crest motifs.