The identities of the individuals who created the vast majority of Oceanic sculpture remain unknown. A notable exception is Mutuaga, a master carver who lived and worked in Dagodagoisu village in the Massim region at the turn of the twentieth century. Mutuaga’s unique carving style is recognizable by its distinctive rendition of the human figure and the elegance and precision of its surface ornamentation. Mutuaga created objects for local use and, beginning in the 1890s, developed a relationship with Charles Abel of the London Missionary Society. Abel became Mutuaga’s patron and promoted his work among the growing numbers of European missionaries, traders, and visitors in the area. Lime spatulas typically were used to facilitate the chewing of betel nut, a mild stimulant. As this example is too large to have served a practical function, it may have been used locally as a ceremonial object or was perhaps intended for a European client.
Abel family, Wellington, New Zealand; [Unknown dealer, Wellington, New Zealand]; [Unknown dealer, Auckland, New Zealand, acquired by 1996]; [Andrew Pendergrast, Auckland, New Zealand]; John Ioannou, Melbourne, Australia; [Kirby Kallas-Lewis, Seattle, WA, from ca. 2003]; Oliver E. Cobb, Seattle, WA, until 2008