The intricate, delicate carving and the tawny, silky appearance of the ivory make this a sensuous, if somewhat enigmatic, object. One of only five known similar ivory handles, this one and another now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art were sent in 1818 from the Tahitian king Pomare II (1774–1821) to an English missionary, Reverend Thomas Haweis (1734–1820). James Wilson, one of the earliest Europeans to visit the Society Islands, noted that fly whisks were a common accouterment of the islanders and a fan or fly whisk (Tahitians used the same word for both objects) was among the insignia of a chief.
Austral Islands or Tahiti, Society Islands
Whale ivory, wood, sennit
L. 12 5/16 in. (31.3 cm)
Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, Raymond and Laura Wielgus Collection, 2010.22