MASKS OF THE NORTHWEST COAST

Deep Roots

Masks, frontlets, and headdresses have been carved, danced and treasured since time immemorial. They are an integral part of Northwest Coast culture and are one of the most recognizable and sought after artforms. Masks are beautiful, intricate, dynamic and symbolic. They are among the most personal of artforms.

Potlatch Masks

Potlatches are feasts that are held to commemorate important occasions, to reaffirm cultural traditions and to witness economic transactions. Potlatch events were once the destination for many carved masks on the Northwest Coast where they were worn by dancers to represent crests and creatures in the stories that were being told. If a mask has been used in a Potlatch or other public event it is said that the mask has been “danced.” Each of the three masks below is at least 100 years old and has been danced.

 

Frog Potlatch Headdress
Artist Unknown (Kwakwaka’wakw)
Red Cedar, Acrylic, Oilcloth
13″ H x 11″ W x 20″ D
$7,000 CAD / $5,355 USD

Historic Thunderbird Mask
Artist Unknown (Kwakwaka’wakw)
Red Cedar, Acrylic, Cedar Bark
24 1⁄2″ H x 12″ W x 18″ D
$8,500 CAD / $6,503 USD

Potlatch Mask
Artist Unknown (Kwakwaka’wakw)
Red Cedar, Cedar Bark, Pigment
10″ H x 8″ W x 4″ D
$6,500 CAD / $4,973 USD

Feature:

Kyran Yeomans

Kyran Yeomans (Haida) has been carving since 2005. Much of his apprenticeship has been with his father, Haida artist Don Yeomans, one of the most prominent carvers on the Northwest Coast. Kyran’s carving is a testament to his experience, exhibiting passion, precision, and creativity.

Our featured artwork in this newsletter is a pairing of masks. Kyran’s latest Sun Mask is carved from western red cedar and is paired with the first in an edition of 12 bronzes.

Sun Mask
Kyran Yeomans (Haida)
Red Cedar
25″ Diam x 10″ D
$18,000 CAD / $11,475 USD

Sun Bronze
Kyran Yeomans (Haida)
Bronze, #1/12
25″ Diam x 10″ D
$15,000 CAD / $11,475 USD

Bronze and Originals

Casting methods allow artists to render their wood carvings in bronze. Molds are taken off of carved masks, known as “originals,” and used to create exact reproductions in bronze, known as “castings.” Each casting is then coloured, or patinaed, to the desired colour. Bronze can be patinaed in almost any colour, although most bronzes tend to be blues and greens to browns and blacks.

Crab of the Woods
Robert Davidson (Haida)
Bronze, #3/12
17″ H x 11″ W x 9″ D
$25,000 CAD / $19,125 USD

Moon Bronze
Tom Eneas (Salish)
Bronze, #5/12
19″ Diam x 5″ D
$11,000 CAD / $8,415 USD

Welcome Moon
Stan Hunt (Kwakwaka’wakw)
Bronze, #1/12
36″ Diam x 8″ D
$11,000 CAD / $8,415 USD

 

Eyes of the Mind
Robert Davidson (Haida)
Bronze, #9/12
11″ H x 10″ W x 7″ D
$25,000 CAD / $19,125 USD

Portrait

These masks represent human figures. It is known that many masks collected in the 19th century were carved in the image of clan ancestors and high-ranking individuals. Portrait masks today do not necessarily have a human counterpart.

Portrait Mask
Francis Horne Jr. (Salish)
Red Cedar
14 1⁄2″ H x 7 1⁄2″ W x 4 1⁄2″ D
$1,800 CAD / $1,377 USD

Female Portrait Mask
Walter Harris (Gitxsan)
Birch, Human Hair
10″ H x 6″ W x 6″ D
$5,000 CAD / $3,825 USD

Happy Go Lucky Mask
Ses Saunders (Nuxalk)
Hand Carved Red Cedar, Acrylic
12″ H x 6 1⁄2″ W x 5 1⁄2″ D
$4,300 CAD / $3,290 USD

Portrait Mask
Ken McNeil (Tahltan, Tlingit, Nisga’a)
Red Cedar, Acrylic
11″ H x 9″ W x 6″ D
$8,500 CAD / $6,503 USD

  Transformation and Articulated

Masks created for potlatching were used to delight the audience, bring pride to one’s lineage and to outdo rival chiefs. Especially amongst the Kwakwaka’wakw in the 19th and 20th centuries, rival chiefs commissioned ever more complex masks to show their superior status. The most magnificent of these masks are known as transformation masks, so-called because during a dance when visibility of the performers was obscured by darkness and firelight, these masks would seemingly transform into another figure before suddenly snapping shut! Transformation masks and articulated masks demonstrate a carver’s mechanical skill and remind the viewer that masks were made to be danced.

Raven Transformation Mask
Beau Dick (Kwakwaka’wakw)
Red Cedar, Cedar Bark, Acrylic
15½” L x 10″ H x 8″ W
$16,000 CAD / $12,240 USD

Earthquake Mask
Tom Patterson (Nuu-chah-nulth)
Red Cedar, Acrylic, Fur
24″ H x 13″ W x 10″ D
$4,200 CAD / $3,213 USD

Articulated Portrait Mask
Joe Wilson (Kwakwaka’wakw)
Red Cedar, Acrylic
12″ H x 8″ W x 6″ D
$3,200 CAD / $2,448 USD

 

Myths and Legends

Many storytellers that live on the Northwest Coast tell of supernatural creatures that possess otherworldly abilities. The ruler of the Undersea World, known as Komokwa in Kwakwala, has all the wealth of the seas., Kwakwaka’wakw children are told to be wary when around the forest and streams, lest Bakwas/Bukw’us, or Wild Man of the Woods, tries to tempt them with his Spirit Food. If a human eats Spirit Food they will be transformed into an otherworldly being, like Bakwas. Pookmis/Pukmis, or Nearly-Drowned, is a malevolent sea being. Pookmis is always depicted in white and has accentuated eyes, sometimes carved deep in a whirlpool spiral, as a central characteristic.

         

Bukwus Mask
Corey Larocque (Haida)
Red Cedar, Acrylic, Rabbit Fur
15″ H x 9″ W x 6″ D
$2,600 CAD / $1,989 USD

Ghost and Raven Mask
Beau Dick (Kwakwaka’wakw)
Wood, Paint, Cedar Bark, Feathers
13″ L x 6″ W x 5″ D
$8,500 CAD / $6,503 USD

Pookmis Mask
Corey Larocque (Haida)
Red Cedar, Acrylic, Feather, Fabric
16″ L x 9½” W x 7½” D
$2,800 CAD / $2,142 USD

 

Dzunukwa Mask
Tom Hunt Jr. (Kwakwaka’wakw)
Alder, Acrylic, Horse Hair
15″ W x 15″ H x 8″ D
$5,500 CAD / $4,208 USD

 

Komokwa Mask
Tom Patterson (Nuu-chah-nulth)
Red Cedar, Acrylic, Copper
16″ H x 15″ W x 8″ D
$3,000 CAD / $2,295 USD

Bukw’us Mask
Marcus Alfred (Kwakwaka’wakw)
Red Cedar, Acrylic, Horse Hair
18″ D x 18″ W x 16″ L
$5,000 CAD / $3,825 USD

Komokwa Mask
Tom Hunt Jr. (Kwakwaka’wakw)
Red Cedar, Acrylic, Copper, Brass
33″ W x 30″ H x 16″ D
$9,000 CAD / $6,885 USD

Animals

From family and clan crests to characters in mythology, animals figure prominently in Northwest Coast artwork and are often represented in semi-anthropomorphized forms. Creatures, including humans, are believed to have transformative abilities to move back and forth between different outward forms.

Bumble Bee Mask
Eugene Isaac (Kwakwaka’wakw)
Red Cedar, Cedar Bark, Acrylic
18″ H x 1⁄2″ W x 5″ D
$1,900 CAD / $1,454 USD

Did U See That Fly?
Ben Davidson (Haida)
Forton
14″ H x 9″ W x 7 1⁄2″ D
$6,000 CAD / $4,590 USD

Grouse Mask
Simon Dick & Peter Smith (Kwakwaka’wakw)
Red Cedar, Acrylic, Cedar Bark
11 1⁄2″ H x 9″ W x 8″ D
$7,000 CAD / $5,355 USD

Octopus Portrait Mask
Ken McNeil (Tahltan, Tlingit, Nisga’a)
Alder, Acrylic, Horse Hair
11″ H x 8″ W x 4 1⁄2″ D
$9,000 CAD / $6,885 USD

Frontlets

Frontlets are often much smaller than masks and are worn as part of a headdress, acting as the centerpiece and being place about the forehead. Frontlets were worn as status symbols and as part of dance regalia. Unlike masks, they do not conceal the identity of the wearer.

Dogfish Frontlet
Robert Davidson (Haida)
Red Cedar, Acrylic, Operculum
10″ H x 8″ W x 4″ D
$50,000 CAD / $38,250 USD

Kwa-Gulth Raven Frontlet
Joe Peters Jr. (Kwakwaka’wakw)
Red Cedar, Acrylic, Abalone
7″ H x 5″ W x 4 1/2″ D
$4,000 CAD / $3,060 USD

Nala Frontlet
Artist Unknown (Kwakwaka’wakw)
Red Cedar, Acrylic
14″ L x 9″ W x 3″ D
$8,000 CAD / $6,120 USD