Unique, spectacular, powerful, original, stunning, magical, perfect, evocative, - a few of the adjectives of praise for Aaron York's moose call "Where Did You Go?" "Tantee Tohtayin!?". All who have seen it have been moved, impressed - all have agreed this is a very special piece of Native American art - current yet traditional, art yet functional.
Moose calls made of birch bark have been made by the Wabanaki peoples of Maine, Vermont and Eastern Canada for many centuries - perhaps even 1000 years. (Wabanaki confederacy includes 5 tribes Algonquin speaking tribes, Abenaki, Maliseet, MicMac (Mi'kmaq, Canadian spelling), Passamaquoddy and Penobscot. These cone shaped calls are made by rolling a large piece of birch bark into a cone shape then securing it with - originally, spruce root - as Aaron does here. Lately these are sometime secured with leather, plastic strips, staples etc. Moose calls were made for hunters to use to imitate the mating calls of a cow moose. Many Native Americans still use these in their moose hunting and swear by them, some saying , as Aaron York does, they can call in a bull moose in a matter of minutes. Vintage moose calls are difficult to find. There are other current Indian birch bark workers that make them - some using more modern methods to secure and/or decorate them. This is by far (as in miles and miles far) the most intricate and beautiful moose call I have seen.
When Aaron described this call to me, he said he had put the bull moose's plaintiff call "where did you go" in ripples from the bull's breath into the universe; towards the stars and moon. (note those when you view the moose's head). Aaron said that there was a diamond design beneath the moose's eye - a teardrop he told me. This moose is crying for his lost mate. When I received this from Aaron I observed the many double curves/scrolls in the drawing of the moose - as well as surrounding him. This motif is an ancient Wabanaki design, here Aaron uses it in the moose's horns, lips, eye, and even to define his jaw. I also noted the moose's tail ends in a floral starburst.
Below is Aaron's own description of this work followed by his thoughts on his moose calls.
Piece name: "Tantee Tohtayin!?" = "Where did you go!?", the moose spirit in the center of the artwork is calling out to his lost mate. pronounced tahn-tee Toe-tah-yin. Y-dialect Cree (northern Alberta). Description: 22"high, 6" bottom diameter, 1.5" top diameter. fancy, etched winterbark, Wabanaki style moose call. Sewn with Red spruce root. with self closing birchbark belts on the top half. Smoked moose hide strap, partially braided.
Art description: free hand, double scroll motifs and ascending and descending fiddleheads surrounding a signature stylized moose spirit calling out into the night towards the stars and moon.
Technique: I do not use stencils. Stencils are fine, but....in my opinion what separates the good bark artist from the great ones is how much they depend on stencils to achieve stunning results. Anyone can use a stencil. On canoes stencil are the only practical way to do large amounts of consistent motif, but on baskets, moose calls and the like..Stencils are a cheat. Non-stenciled work is more organic, but...takes far more hand control and artistic talent to pull off. Laying out a unique motif freehand takes hours. Scrolls are very hard to lay out free hand and get good flow and eye appeal/symmetry. Being able to draw out a non-symmetrical dazzling scroll motif is not possible with stencils, which is why you seldom see it. This call is Paved in both a-symmetrical and symmetrical free hand scroll work
Aaron York; Nulhegan Band of the Coosuk Abenaki Tribe - Art ID Number :AIACA ID # = AY-NA-MC 01
Aboriginal Art fun fact for the day: obviously the art embellishment on a utilitarian piece does not affect its function; or does it? This is where traditional land based knowledge plays in on my personal opinion that it does. These are prayers, for me, I am saying to the moose..I respect and have immense gratitude for you giving your life to me. Knowing I put that much labor into a call, then holding it to my mouth to speak to the Moze spirits on the land gives me pause check of my values, motives and actions. I remember that we see subsistance harvesting as a ceremony. so this call is a sacred object when hunted with. Its essential for me to use a call like this. I do not know how it works, I cannot use human language of any kind to explain that mystery..But these ultra fancy calls in the hands of a respectful hunter with good calling skills will bring a massive mature bull in sometimes within and hour.