Bear Serpentine Stone

A small Brown Bear sculpture made from Serpentine stone by Hoonah artist Amos Wallace. Amos was a member of the T’akdeintaan clan, his Tlingit name was Jeet Yaaw Dustaa.

This is a Brown Bear carved in a sitting position with its paws under its chin. Short ears, short muzzle, no tail, and teeth showing are clues to identifying this creature. This piece is small at 9cm or 3.5 inches tall. Being made of Serpentine stone Amos could use his woodworking tools to produce this piece and because of its size it was probably made for the tourist market. This piece was acquired in 1962 while Amos was doing demonstrations for the Indian Arts and Crafts Board (IACB) in Juneau.

Serpentine stone, Argillite and Soapstone were three of the different types of rock that Tlingits used for carving, it was easy to carve these stones with woodcarving tools and the stone types could take and hold great detail which allowed the artist more creative freedom.

Cultural Narrative: 

The brown bear is a crest for several Eagle clans. Bears have a special relationship with Tlingits as they are seen as their brothers and are benevolent towards humans when shown honor and respect.

 Xoots (Brown Bear)

Traditional Knowledge: 

There are many stories about bears interacting with Tlingits and these are passed down from generation to generation. There was a time in the past that Tlingits believed that humans and Xoots could speak the same language. Most of the time both bears and humans could get along but every once in a while their disagreements could lead to mortal combat. The village of Hoonah was established in its current location because its previous location (after Xunaa Káawu left Glacier Bay) of Gaht heeni (Garteeni) was favored by a community of Xoots who were not willing to share with humans. Humans had to move about a mile away to establish their own community first called Dei L’e.Aan, then Gaaw T’akh Aan, followed by Xuniya, Xunaa, Huna and finally Hoonah. Balance would have to be restored so the conflict could be resolved, and both could continue to live in harmony. Xoots was given the utmost respect and one should never gossip or talk badly about them, negative encounters were actually rare.

Amos Wallace

Figure, carved green with black flecks serpentine, of a bear with stylized features and large eyes standing on hind legs with front paws positioned under the chin.

Acquired by Indian Arts and Crafts Board representatives in 1962 when the artist was employed during IACB arts and crafts demonstrations at Juneau, Alaska; part of the IACB Headquarters collection (Department of the Interior, Washington, DC) until 2000 when it was transferred to NMAI.