Skip to content

Owl Woman (1973)

Woodcut
Dale DeArmond
Edition of 25 (multi-colored)
Edition of A/P: 5

Unknown Edition (three color: ochre, gray, black)
Unknown proofs were produced

Print size: 17" x 21 ½"
Image size: 12" x 15"

Editor's note: the three-colored image is from an unnumbered A/P print and is included in the book Dale DeArmond – A First Book Collection of Her Prints. It differs from the regular, multi-colored print edition and may indicate a second state.

The following contains some graphic thematic elements:
Reprinted from The Alaska Free Press, Juneau Vol. I, No. 2, January 20, 1887.

by Mrs. Eugene S. Willard

Last night, the children said “we went outdoors when the old owl was talking in the trees. We said to him: ‘Oh shut up! Your father’s a witch. Your mother’s a witch!’”

But you know that owls can’t talk,” I said. To this came the ready retort, “They can’t talk ‘Merican. They just speak Tlingit. White people always say, ‘No witches in Chilkat.’ But Chilkat Tlingits see plenty of witches.”

“If the owl is a witch, what does he do?” I asked.

“Oh, plenty bad things. If small boy goes out alone, owl turn his heart upside down.”

“But how did the owl come to be a witch?” I asked, and the answer to that question is translated here:

It was at or near the present site of Sitka that an old blind woman lived with her son and his wife. It was a time of great scarcity of food. Every day the son went to hunt and to fish, but he found nothing. He and his old mother hardly kept soul and body together with the few roots and berries that could be found, but the young wife thrived well, on what no one but herself knew.

In the night when the old woman would wake up from sleep, she would say to her daughter-in-law, “What have you there to eat?”

“Nothing.”

“Oh, yes you have. I smell fish, and I hear oil dripping on the fire.”

“No, you don’t; there is nothing to eat.”

Again the hungry old woman would say, “What are you eating? You have fish. I hear you eating it.”

“No,” was the answer. “I’m only chewing spruce gum.”

The truth was that, having the power of a witch, the young woman went every midnight to the rocks overhanging the sea and there, with branches of cedar which she swayed backwards and forwards, crossing and recrossing them before her, she charmed the young herring from their haunts, causing them to fling themselves from the waves to the rocks at her feet. Then she gathered them into her basket and took them home. There she strung them on a long slender stick and roasted them in the way that was still common, inclining the stick over the open log fire by fastening one end in the ground of the floor. Having cooked and eaten her feast alone, she slept again.

Matters when on in this way until one night the old mother’s questionings and pleadings so angered her daughter-in-law that, snatching a fish from the stick, she tore out its burning entrails and cried, “Hold out your hand then and you shall have some.” She forcibly closed the old fingers upon the morsel until the palm was deeply burned.

When the husband came home in the morning, he asked what made his mother sit crying so. His wife professed not to know and the old mother answered not a word.

Determined to hear the store from the mother herself, he said to his wife, “I am going hunting again. Go into the woods and gather some of the soft inner bark so I can make thread to fasten my arrow heads.”

While she was gone, the old woman told him all her troubles and he decided what to do. When his wife returned with the bark, he took his bow and put off in his canoe as though he were going a distance. But as soon as he rounded a point of land and was out of sight of the village he went ashore and hid himself and his canoe in the bushed until nightfall.

When the moon began to rise he stole toward the village and, taking a station which would command a view of the beach, waited.

At midnight, by the increased light of the moon, he saw the figure of his wife approaching the scene of her nightly incantations. He watched her closely through it all, then followed softly to the house where he saw her cook and eat the fish and again deny his mother’s cry for food. He then returned to his canoe and soon secured a hair seal. This he took home and cooked and he fed so much of the fat to his wife that she fell into a deep sleep. When the midnight hour came again the man, having stolen her art, went to the beach and filed his canoe with fish. He then woke his wife and commanded her to carry up the fish from the canoe.

She went toward the canoe and sat down on the beach and called very feebly for her husband to bring her the basket. This he refused to do and she would not return for it. She sat on the sands all day and when moon rose she started walking toward the mountain. At last she came to a flat stone above the edge of the beach. Today some of the whites at Sitka call it Baranof’s Stone and others just call it the Blarney Stone. It is just outside the gate of the Industrial Training School. The young woman was growing weak and sat on the stone and was at once changed into an owl that spread its wings and disappeared toward the mountain.

Today you often hear the taunting cries of the Tlingits, addressed to this bird which they both fear and despise: “Oh, shut up! You burnt your mother’s fingers with fish! Your father was a witch and you are a witch!”


Original price: $40.00