Museums and other institutions with string figure artefacts

- an inventory of string figures mounted on card, string figures on film, string figure photographs, and recordings of string figure songs

Compiled by Martin Probert

Other Archives with String Figure Artefacts
Survival, Origin and Mathematics of String Figures


Acknowledgements: I wish to thank Alex Pezzati, Archivist, William Wierzbowski, Assistant Keeper of the American Section, and Adria Katz, Keeper of the Oceanian Section, for their considerable help in both checking and supplying accession numbers, for supplying catalogue descriptions and historical details, for supplying copies of catalogue cards, and for bringing additional artefacts to my attention.

Eskimo string figures (75) mounted on card

  1. Float, made of seal skinned whole; on whale line.
  2. Soapstone lamp with flame.
  3. Whale head, spouting.
  4. Two deer.
  5. Two eyes.
  6. Fish (Sculpin).
  7. White whale.
  8. Polar bear.
  9. Wolf.
  10. Black bear, an evil spirit which devours the dead.
  11. Woman bringing in two pails of water.
  12. House in autumn, partly of rocks, covered with old tent.
  13. Swan.
  14. Two deer.
  15. Gulls.
  16. Intestines of two bodies.
  17. High hill or mountain, with ponds at base.
  18. Two birds that eat eggs and small birds.
  19. Two persons pulling each other's hair.
  20. Two fawns.
  21. Two mice.
  22. Two mice burrows.
  23. House in autumn, made of ice cakes with old tent over the top. Later when snow packs, snow house is built.
  24. Man dancing with drum, Kiliuk, in hand.
  25. Two wolverines.
  26. Child's pants and boots.
  27. Anticock cheering on a man to renewed effort.
  28. Fox.
  29. Owl.
  30. Weasel.
  31. Pants.
  32. Shirt.
  33. Lynx.
  34. Seal breathing in crack in ice.
  35. Tent.
  36. Two stars, rising just before daybreak in late December and early January. Deer meat is offered to them to pray them to make the weather warmer and keep the sun from going away altogether.
  37. Two ponds.
  38. Seagull.
  39. Chopping tray or wooden dish.
  40. Head. Walrus head.
  41. A fabulous being that steals children and puts them in a bag on his back.
  42. Uck clar. Ghoul leaving his home in search of dead bodies (see No. 10). There is a bear found in Labrador and around Coppermine river, also at Lake Baker, which passes in the markets as a grizzly. It is known to the Eskimo as Uck clar.
  43. Ribs and chest bones.
  44. Two arms, each with stone sling.
  45. An old woman (she can be made to run to the other hand by loosing one finger).
  46. Two musk oxen.
  47. Man crawling on the ice after seal.
  48. Sled (with dogs). The maker of the figure says: "Come you, go on the sled". The other is supposed to be seated on the sled, when the lower left hand loop is let go and dogs and sled break apart into next figure.
  49. Sled and dogs separated.
  50. Duck.
  51. A native.
  52. Uck clar. Black bear, evil spirit grave robbers. Young Uck clars in the middle. (See Nos 10 and 42).
  53. Tug-of-war; parties pulling on two ropes.
  54. Rabbit.
  55. Eskimo at play, swinging on tight-rope.
  56. Eskimo at dance with drum.
  57. Intestines and kidneys.
  58. Deer.
  59. Big door.
  60. Woman's breeches. Told to throw them away: then they appear as in figure 61.
  61. Woman's breeches after throwing them away.
  62. Scoop for clearing ice chips from hole cut in ice. Pond ice freezes 6 to 7 feet thick and scoop handles must be long.
  63. Lamp. Flame. Stone lamp with flame.
  64. Bear with large mouth.
  65. Fire: flame of lamp.
  66. Anticock whose spirit is about to leave the body to visit the Eskimo goddess to find out the cause of sickness among his people. He usually returns to say some woman has erred. If she confesses all recover.
  67. Continuation of No. 66. Shows the anticock's spirit ascending from earth.
  68. Race by two Eskimo who each run around a hill.
  69. Woman's deerskin coat, showing the white stripe in front.
  70. Leg.
  71. Lamp with flame and trimmer stick laid across the lamp.
  72. Wolf with broken back.
  73. Woman with long hair. She is told that her uncle has killed a whale and she must jump over it.
  74. Woman with long hair makes the jump, with hair streaming.
  75. Land-mark: a common thing to erect on prominent places: upright stones with other stones on top.

Zuñi (New Mexico) string figures (7) mounted on card (Stewart Culin collection)

  1. 22604
  2. 22605
  3. 22606 Lightning
  4. 22607 Brush House
  5. 22608 Brush House
  6. 22609 Cross Beam of Ladder
  7. 22610 Sling

Navaho string figures (13) mounted on card (Stewart Culin collection)

  1. 22712 Lightning
  2. 22713 Nis star (given as Big Star in String Figures, CF Jayne, 1906)
  3. 22714 Many Starts (given as Many Stars in Jayne)
  4. 22715 Twin Stars
  5. 22716 Horned Star
  6. 22717 Pleiades (there was no native term for this constellation)
  7. 22718 Two Coyotes Running Apart
  8. 22719 Owl
  9. 22720 Snake
  10. 22721 Lizard
  11. 22722 Poncho
  12. 22723
  13. 22724 Hacking the Wood.

Isleta (New Mexico) string figures (4) mounted on card (Stewart Culin collection)

  1. 22729
  2. 22730 Star (not 25730 as quoted in Jayne, page 307)
  3. 22731
  4. 22732 Lightning

Photographs (5) showing Venezuelan children with string figures

  1. 27205 Boy making string figure Tuakarcha... which, according to the Indians, probably represents the lappe or the raccoon.
  2. 27234 Boys making string figure Pekapa... which, according to the Indians, represents a small hammock.
  3. 27235 Boy making string figure Kampok... which, according to the Indians, represented the conventionalized figure of the belly of the peccary.
  4. 27236 Boy making string figure Opay-Nakarno... the Indians had either forgotten what it represented or else I could not discover what they wanted to explain to me.
  5. 42538 Macoa boy making string figure Kurw-kiyashak... which, according to the Indians, represented a conventionalized figure of the anteater's belly.

String used for string games

Hawaiian string figures (15) mounted on card (Stewart Culin collection)
(Dashes --- indicate omission of a string figure name to avoid website blocking by filtering software.)

  1. 21447
  2. 21448
  3. 21449 Pump
  4. 21450 Saw
  5. 21451
  6. 21452 ---
  7. 21453
  8. 21491
  9. 21492 Ace of Diamonds
  10. 21493
  11. 21494 See-Saw
  12. 21495 Darkness
  13. 21496 ---
  14. 21497 Bird House
  15. 21498 Net
  16. 21512
  17. 21513 String Puzzle
  18. 21514 String Puzzle
  19. 21515
  20. 21526 Ace of Hearts
  21. 21527 Ace of Spades

Australian string figures (8) mounted on card (made by D.S. Davidson)

  1. 85-5-1 Two Turtles on a Log
  2. 85-5-2 [label missing]
  3. 85-5-3 Python
  4. 85-5-4 Four Blackfellows
  5. 85-5-5 One Blackfellow
  6. 85-5-6 Waterhole
  7. 85-5-7 Two Kangaroos
  8. 85-5-8 Bamboo

Australian string figures (6) mounted on a display board (made by D.S. Davidson)

  1. One Waterhole
  2. Python
  3. Two Turtles on a Log
  4. One Blackfellow
  5. Blackfellow Steals a Lubra
  6. Two Waterholes

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Copyright Martin Probert 2002