Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Tuesday morning answers

The answer to Friday's Whatzit: Awl. Well, an awl from Alaska is what the accession list says (the information written down when we originally acquired the object).

Larissa B. made a good guess of a hair pin. I was thinking along those lines myself; I would have guessed something like a shawl pin.

An awl is an object used to punch holes in things, usually leather. Awls are usually made from a strong, sharp material such as bone or horn. I find it a bit unusual that this awl is so light and made of wood. There is some evidence that it could be an awl - the "pointy" part has a shiny patina on it, as if it were rubbed against something frequently.

The awl will continue to be a mystery to me, at least until someone encounters it and knows the history of this kind of object. But that's part of what makes this job fun. I have the chance to encounter new objects and learn about them. If I don't know what they are, I'll do some research to better understand what it is I'm taking care of.

The mystery presented by objects such as this awl is also why museum people insist on asking so many questions of individuals interested in donating things. Museums are in the business of stories; preserving stories, telling stories, keeping stories. This awl has lost its original story, it's become a mystery. If the awl came to us today, we would ask the owner where they got it, how they got it, what they know about it. We might discover it belonged to the owner's grandmother and was carved by the owner's grandfather to commemorate a friend. We might discover that the awl was used to make the boots which protected the family's feet against the cold. Suddenly the awl would become imbued with a history much greater and much more useful than the mystery that we currently have. But maybe, if we encounter the right person, we'll be able to find a story for the awl yet.

1 comment:

capriciousmuse said...

Huh. I would have guessed it was some sort of Inupiat mask, because that's what the anthropomorphic carving looks like, although that wouldn't have explained the handle/spike at the bottom. A shawl pin makes more sense to me than an awl, because usually awls were made from ivory or bone, whereas this looks like a wood carving. No information on the dates for this piece, huh?