Tsimshian Eagle Bookends: Red cedar wood, Height 7.25 inches, Carver: Casper Mather, circa 1940.
These Eagle Bookends were carved by Casper Mather ( 1876-1972) of New Metlakatla and Ketchikan, Alaska. We purchased them, this past year, as having been carved by Eli Tait, another carver from New Metlakatla. In researching them we found a photo postcard of Casper Mather posing with his carvings and showing very similar bookends at his feet. It soon became clear that while Eli Tait and Casper Mather had very similar carving styles there were also distinct differences, and we are now confidently attributing these bookends to Casper Mather.
Photo of Casper Mather in regalia with some of his carvings. Note the pair of Eagle bookends at his feet that closely resemble the bookends in this post. Photo courtesy of Steve Akerman. Original photo postcard by Otto Schallerer of Shallerer’s Photo Shop, Ketchikan, AK
Mather was a member of the Tsimshian (Indian) cultural group and of the Episcopal Church group that emigrated with Father William Duncan from Old Metlakatla in Canada to found New Metlakatla on Annette Island, Alaska. Casper was 11 years old at the time of the move in 1887. As part of the move to Alaska, Father Duncan encouraged the emigrants to divest themselves of the old ways. Many tribal objects were destroyed and public display of tribal art was discouraged. Mather was without formal training as a carver. Steve Akerman’s website, Early Totem Carvers of New Metlakatla, is dedicated to those early carvers that kept the Metlakatla style of carving alive:
Today Casper Mather is regarded as a prominent Tsimshian carver who helped keep Tsimshian traditional art forms alive during his lifetime. These eagle bookends were probably carved when Mather lived in Ketchikan, where he moved in the 1920s. Mather was a founder and a preacher in Tsimshian and English at the Indian Episcopal Church in Ketchikan. He led a full and varied life – packer on the Chilkoot Pass, Ship Master and Guide in Alaskan Waters, blacksmith, and Carver. Click the links below to read more about Casper Mather and about New Metlakatla.
Remembering Casper Mather, Master Carver, Remembering Alaskans Series.
The Founding of Metlakatla, by Dave Kiffer. Stories In The News, Sit.News, Ketchikan, AK