A snow knife, known as a pana in Iniktitut, is used in building igloos or creating a blind when hunting caribou. The knife is used to trim snow into blocks so that they can be stacked together on top of one another, forming a temporary shelter to protect those inside from the effects of the weather. When the ice is sufficiently built up, it insulates those inside and creates a warm environment.
Pana are relatively simple to make and replace but are a crucial tool for nomadic family groups moving between permanent settlements or for hunters on extended journeys. When Europeans first began to arrive in Alaska, they collected many snow knives as the Arctic peoples enthusiastically traded them for more efficient metal saws and knives, which they still use today. This exceptionally elegant example features seven finely engraved caribou, with a zigzag cord for grip.
Faith-Dorian and Martin Wright acquired this snow knife from Mathias Komor, a New York City art dealer, who started dealing in the 1930s and was one of the pioneering American dealers in ancient and tribal art.