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Born in the decade that saw the Canadian government outlaw the potlatch, Arthur Shaughnessy was a Kwakwaka'wakw artist and cultural practitioner. He worked both publicly and underground to preserve and continue Kwakwaka'wakw ways of knowing. Shaughnessy carved small and large-scale totems, storage boxes, masks for ceremonial dance, and ceremonial screens. Because he produced for local use, tourist trade, and for museums, Shaughnessy's work has entered into wide circulation. Some of his pieces are now held in the permanent collection of museums including the Seattle Art Museum and at the Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver, BC.
Shaughnessy was one of the first artists to carve many small-scale totem poles for sale in the tourist trade. However, as part of a Canadian government crackdown on illegalized ceremonial activity in 1922, Shaughnessy was arrested for his carving. After his release from prison, Shaughnessy continued to carve prolifically and finished his commission pieces for museums and others. Shaughnessy’s work influenced other artists; including Emily Carr who made several sketches of Shaughnessy’s totem poles after a 1930 expedition to sketch on the Northwest Coast.