A Brief History of the Haida Bentwood box

July 31, 2012

Haida Bentwood boxes were made in many different sizes in the old days, with various types of wood being used depending on what they would have been used for but typically red cedar was used as it is the most versatile. The boxes are made from a single plank which is steamed until pliable and then bent and the two ends are pegged together.


Haida Bentwood Box  by Andy Wilson




Musical Instruments

Very large bentwood boxes were used for boom boxes (drums) in dance performances and when not in use, these would store the dance regalia.


Clothing and Storage
Large boxes to store clothing in, and medium boxes used for many different purposes - some were even used for cooking in.


To use a box for cooking, the cook would first put in all the main ingredients for seafood soup, add the water and any extra ingredients. While the ingredients were being prepared, someone else would be heating up rocks until they were glowing, and then they would be added to the water-tight bentwood box, and voila, you have instant hot soup or stew.


Food Storage and Transportation
Some of the smaller Haida Bentwood boxes were made to carry water, dried salmon, halibut, fruit, and many of the other foods the Haida would need for their long journeys on their dugout canoes.


Burial Purposes
Some boxes were made for burial purposes. Chiefs and people of high esteem were placed in these bentwood burial boxes, and put up in a burial (mortuary) pole, when ready to pay respect to those went on to the other side.


Thanks to Andy Wilson of the Haida Nation for sharing this picture and knowledge about Haida Bentwood Boxes with us.


By the way, the contemporary Bentwood box pictured here has the following dimensions, 16" x 30" x 12" and it is crafted out of red cedar. The Haida artist is Steve Collinson of Skidegate. Steve Collinson, a friend of Andy Wilson, began as an apprentice with Andy as part of a project when they were making the big bentwood boxes for the Haida Heritage Centre and for the Chiefs of the Haida Nation. Steve Collinson has gone on to be a very successful artist both in the traditional art of making bentwood boxes, and painting Haida designs on the boxes.


In case you were wondering what a quality Haida Bentwood Box would sell for, the asking price for the Bentwood box shown here is $10,000. I’m sure Andy Wilson (andywilson5612@gmail.com; 250-652-3414) could connect you with Steve if you are interested in purchasing this or other Haida Bentwood Boxes or art.


Here's an article on the repatriation work Andy did for the Haida Nation.


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Topics: Indigenous History

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