The British Museum's collections, £16.99
Ric Glazer Danay, Mohawk Lunch Pail
From Québec, Canada, around AD 1983
The artist Ric Glazer Danay (born 1942), from Kahnawke, Québec, worked in construction during the 1960s, for instance on the Verrazano Narrows Bridge which spans the entrance to New York harbour. Danay has converted the prosaic lunch pail, the box traditionally used by all Mohawk workers on East Coast high steel projects (including the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan), into a piece of contemporary popular art which is intended as a witty comment on Mohawk culture in the late twentieth century:
'Most Mohawks drink Labatts beer but I prefer Moosehead better. If anyone asks about the pink buffs you can tell them that, while white people see pink elephants when drinking, Indians see pink buffalos. The nude backsides are a reference to ironworkers girl-watching at lunchtime.' (The artist, quoted in F. Carey (ed.), Collecting the 20th Century (BMP, 1991), p. 26)
As long ago as 1709 the British surveyor John Lawson noted that an 'Indian will walk on the ridge of a barn or house, and look down at the gable end, and spit upon the ground, as unconcerned as if he was walking on terra firma [solid ground]'. Mohawks were active in the fur trade from the seventeenth century. With the loss of much of Oregon Territory to the United States in the 1840s, they turned to other activities. This included entertainment, performing traditional dances in the circus, and mounting lacrosse tours in Europe. The first important high steel project at this time, on which they worked, was the Victoria Bridge across the St Lawrence River, opened by the Prince of Wales in 1860.
J.C.H. King, First peoples, first contacts: (London, The British Museum Press, 1999)