Saturday, July 31, 2010


Title; Hoyaneh
Material; Black Ash Burl, Deer Antler, Trade Silver Earrings.
Size; 21" tall
Date of creation; 2010

I consider this sculpture my finest original creation to date. It is not a copy of any known original but a unique culmination of inspirations adapted from early Woodland Indian art effigies. It was my intention to try to capture the essence of 17th and 18th century Native American sculptures in order that I might be able to render and bring forward something unique that possessed the same essence of an earlier period.

My friend Michael Galban, historian at Ganondagan State Historic Site in Western New York commented;
"Haudenosaunee "chiefs" are called "Hoyaneh" and on their headdress they wear the antlers of authority which is the tangible symbol of office. I was struck by that when I saw your sculpture. However the metaphor is not simply a badge of office but when deer antlers are worn it symbolizes that the people depend on that leader like they depend on the deer for sustenance."

It was from Michael's letter that I titled my sculpture "Hoyaneh". By applying the deer antlers, I was not intending to represent a mortal being, but a spiritual of sustenance.

© Steven M. Lalioff 2010

Friday, July 30, 2010

Sliding Lid Box

Based upon an old original, this little box measures 5.75" long. It is all one piece that has interior carved channels to give the lid a rail in which to slid. The lid has a lip on the leading edge that allows it to snap shut making it nearly air tight when closed. One of the best qualities of burl is it's superior stability. It is not prone to warp or check with age and because the grain grows irregularly in nearly every direction, it has a strong almost plastic quality. In my opinion, burl is actually easier to carve than strait grained woods which can tend to split when carving if strict attention is not paid to the direction of the grain. I have seen several little hinged burl boxes that have wooden hinges that are still functional after centuries of use.
How much like a work of modern sculpture this little box is.

Crooked Knives

The crook knife is a unique tool created by the Native Americans of the Northeastern American Woodlands. They were the essential native wood working tool, used to create everything from canoes to wigwams. The earliest examples are fitted with trade knives or razor blades. I do knot know if this tool existed before the introduction of steel to North America. Perhaps someone with a greater understanding of pre-historic Indian tools can add a comment about this question.

Shown at the top is an original 19th century crook knife, the center is one of my creation and the bottom object is an original curved crook knife blade that blacksmith Peter Ross reproduced for me. Extant examples of curved crook knives are rare in quantity compared to the strait bladed variety. I believe the primary function of curved blades was to carve the interior of bowls. Peter's blade is a "dead-on" copy, however, I had him reverse the curve so that the knife functioned for a left handed carver like myself.
Like ladles, original crook knives display a wide variety of effigy and organic design. I've even seen an original made in the 1930's that has an inlaid photograph of Marlene Dietrich! Considering the long hours one spends carving, I can understand.

Update: The link below will take you to a web site that introduces a new book by authors Russel and Ned Jalbert, titled "Mocotaugan, the Story and the Art of the Crooked Knife" The book is devoted to the history of crook knives. My question was answered; The steel bladed crooked knife does have a prehistoric antecedent. Follow the link to learn more!

Original Burl Pipe

I found this wonderful little original pipe on eBay around the turn of the last century. I just knew if I looked hard and long enough I would find a burl wood pipe. The seller told me it had come from a trunk of personal effects belonging to a man that had passed away at nearly 100 years old in Ashtabula, Ohio near Lake Erie. The seller did not know if the man was Native American nor any other details.
The pipe is just a fraction longer than 13" total. The stem hole and the rim of the bowl are both cast in lead or leaded pewter. I think it's most likely the latter, as pure lead is very soft and there are very few dinks along the edges. The wood species of the bowl I believe is maple burl and is very dark from smoking and age. The stem (ash?), appears to be original and has a dark, glossy sheen from much use and handling.
The design of the bowl is made along the lines of larger Calumets or "Peace Pipes", those ceremonial pipes made to share. I believe because of it's small size, this pipe was intended for use as a personal smoking pipe and not designed for ritual use.
I hesitate estimating the age of this pipe. By design, it could have been made before 1800. I can only speculate as to a tribal association...the prow and the bowl of the pipe bears some resembalance to the catlinite Calumet smoked at the Treaty of Greenville in 1795. There are also catlinite pipes made by the Northern Plains people that are nearly identical in architecture.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Horse Effigy Comb

I made this several years ago for my daughter. The horse effigy was inspired by a 30,000 year old Mammoth ivory carving found at Vogelherd in Germany and is known as one of the oldest sculptures in the world, it is less than 2" long.
I have been in love with prehistoric art since I was a child and my love for it continues to grow in appreciation. I see in this art an absolute purity of form and grace of line. It is said that all art is appropriated from earlier work...I wonder about the artist that made the ivory horse 30 thousand years ago...who were they emulating?

My carving is made from black ash burl and the tines of the comb are made from moose antler. The horses' mane, tail and the relief carved floral design are darkened by touching hot metal to the wood. Applying color accents by scorching is a technique found throughout early Native American art.

Size; 5.25" x 3.75"

Effigy Pipe

This pipe I carved during the winter of 2002. It's based upon an early pipe depicted in the book, Pleasing the Spirits, by Douglas C. Ewing, 1982. It is thought the original was made by the Eastern Chippewa around the year 1800. The original, like mine is 12.5" long.
I made this pipe from a piece of curly maple. The 3 bands of metal are cast leaded pewter and were more than a little tricky to perfectly fill the circumference. I think casting is as much luck as it is skill. I used a stiff cardboard to dam the lead for the pour. The best advice I can offer to those wishing to try their hand at this is to remember to poke holes in the dam in order to vent the hot gasses or else you'll end up with voids.
As I write, my friend Jan Zender is creating an appropriate pipe stem for this pipe. I will certainly post images of the pipe and stem when finished.


In 1992, I attended a high-end antique show and there saw for the first time the original mousetrap photographed on the left. I loved this Rube Goldberg-esque thing, but I wasn't willing to part with $1,200.00 to make it my own. I remembered and pined for that little trap for 16 years until a couple years ago I saw it again it in an antiques magazine. I called the owner to ask if I could pay him for additional photos and/or measurements...I wanted to make one for myself I explained. The trap was not for sale on it's own but was part of a very large collection he was hoping to place with a collector or museum. The gentleman was so kind he sent me the trap...didn't know me from Adam but figured any guy obsessed with mousetraps like he was could be trusted.
The trap came in the post and I set to making a copy post haste. Three days later, I had what I thought was a near perfect and functional copy. It was the smithing and patinating of the iron components, the main spring especially that was the most time consuming.
I made my copy from black ash burl but I believe the original trap was made from birch burl. The name burned with a furniture makers hallmark on the back is "H.N. Kleametsta". The 'e' and the 'a' were conjoined letters indicative of a Scandinavian name and if indeed this is birch wood then most likely the original was made in Sweden or Norway but Minnesota is also a possibility.
5.75" long

Abstract Effigy Duck Bowl

Here is a little cherry wood burl bowl I carved in 2007 based upon an early Native American bowl. I was taken by the abstract quality of the design. Cherry burl can be a very frustrating burl to work with as it is so often riddled with hidden bark inclusions. What appears to be a fine burl at the start is almost always hiding an interior void. But, this is also an opportunity to resolve the problem in the same way Native American Indian carvers did, by filling the void with lead. I consider that these lead patches add to the interest and complexity of the carving.
The middle photo shows how I used masking tape as a dam to prevent the molten lead from running past the void I intended to fill. The top photo shows the lead once it is cooled and ready to be trimmed flush with the surface. I have seen original pieces with lead patches that have been peened into the void, perhaps due to the shrinkage of the wood and the need to tighten the patch.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Bust with Crown

I started this carving almost 10 years ago and only finished it in 2009. My studio has many projects in various states of completion. Sometimes I get stalled for lack of just the right tool or materials...sometimes I just get too busy with life.

This carving is not made of burl wood, but made from a 180 year old walnut log obtained from a log barn restoration. There are over 200 growth rings, so this tree began growing about the year 1600. The finish is chip carved and over that a hand made paint. I burnished the painted surface in order to rub through the high points to expose the dark walnut underneath. The design for this bust is based upon a carved effigy head that adorns an exceptional 17th century Native American ball club. As is found on the original club, the eyes of my sculpture are cast in pure lead.

The headdress and 18th c. style trade silver were made by artist Jan Zender. The headdress is known as a chiefs crown and is made from buffalo horn, dyed porcupine quills, horse and deer hair, rawhide, brain tanned deer skin and natural pigments. The original 18th century crown is in the collections of the Musee du Quai Branly in Paris.

Jan Zender is one of the worlds leading artists in the field of early Native American artifact reproductions and restoration. I have included a link to his web site at the right of this blog.

photo by Jan Riser

Burl Wood Duck Bowl

I carved this bowl from Black Ash burl as a gift for my wife in 2003. While it is not a reproduction of an original it is inspired by prehistory clay effigy duck bowls found here in the Midwest. I used antique square-shank brass tacks for the eyes. I began carving out the cavity by first laying hot coals and a blowpipe to char the wood to make scraping easier...but easy it was not. The size is just under 12" long.

Often, it will take months for me to complete a carving as this is not how I earn my living but the way I find to relax.

Burl Cup

The original carving that inspired me is currently in the collections of Museum of the American Indian in Washington D.C. and was once part of the Heye Foundation collection. The original was carved from an applewood knot by Chief Siacus of the lower Housatonic River, (Western Connecticut). It was collected in 1740 and stands about 3.25" tall.

I made this cup for my wife in tribute to our mutual love for coffee. I carved it from a Big Leaf Maple burl, it stands about 3.25" tall, (as measured to the rim). The cup and handle are carved from one solid piece, not applied separately. I no longer carve Woodland style objects from Big Leaf Maple as this species of burl is indigenous only to the Pacific West Coast of North America. At the time I made this, I thought "maple burl was maple burl" but once I trained my eye to identify the various species of burl I realized that there were identifiable differences in the visual qualities between maple species. Someday, I would like to render another of these from an applewood knot...a green one preferably.

Part of the purpose of this blog is to help me be more diligent in documenting my work and archiving details surrounding my inspirations. I've long thought, "oh, I'll remember this", only to wonder a few years later, "humm...where did this come from?" A few years ago I was leafing through a book (title forgotten) and saw a photo of 3 very similar style cups that were Indian made during the 1930's. They were a collection of work sponsored by the WPA or one of the other Recovery Era acts created to help support the arts and artists during the hard times. If anyone knows the title of this book or knows more details about this work program that sponsored Native crafts during the 1930's, please post details in the comment box. It would be much appreciated.

Pawnee Pipe (detail)

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Pawnee Pipe

I haven't found much yet written about the original pipe that inspired this carving other than it is titled; Pawnee, Nebraska, 1840, 15" in length.
When I open a book or visit a museum and see a sculptural piece like this I almost hyperventilate with excitement, I guess this comes from being surrounded by cornfields for most of my life. I do not covet the original, the enjoyment comes from re-creating a like copy for myself. I don't do this for income, just the pleasure of spend time intently focused upon one idea for hours at a time with no client to please other than myself.

Like the original, my copy is made from curly maple with cast inlays of leaded pewter.

Rum Pipe

Title; Rum Pipe
Material; Sugar Maple Burl
Size; 4.75" long
Date of Creation; 2005-2006
Destroyed; 2007