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Pair of Dance Masks

Southwestern Alaska

late 19th century

wood, paint

width: 14 and 14 ½"

Inventory # E2030a,b



These masks were collected in Alaska in the late 19th century by Joseph E. Chilberg. Chilberg travelled to Alaska for the gold rush, and over a period of approximately 20 years, amassed a large and significant collection of Eskimo art and artifacts. In 1917 Chilberg established Chilberg’s Alaska Museum of Arctic Antiquities and Curio Emporium in Long Beach California, which remained in operation until 1935.
By descent to grandson David Rowland, New York, NY 


Donald Ellis Gallery catalogue, 2001, pgs. 22-23
Art of The Ancestors: Antique Native American Art, Shaw, Aspen, Aspen Art Museum, 2004, pg. 86


Thomas Burke Memorial Washington State Museum, No.4539 - See: The Living Tradition of Yup'ik Masks, Riordan, University of WA Press, 1996, pg. 181

There is strong evidence to suggest that many, if not most Yup’ik dance masks, were conceived and danced in sets of two, and occasionally three (Fienup-Riordan 1996, pg. 103). A significant number of Yup’ik masks in public collections can be associated with their fraternal counterparts. Outside of museum collections however, sets of masks are extremely rare.

This charming pair, displaying prominent hand appendages, are likely linked to the successful pursuit of game. It has been suggested that the holes in the hands, a familiar feature of Yup’ik masks, represent the passage through which animals come down from the sky to nourish the earth (see: Fienup-Riordan 1996, pg. 180).