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Exceptional Tsimshian mask carved with naturalistic countenance - Donald Ellis Gallery
Profile view of painted wooden mask carved with naturalistic countenance - Donald Ellis Gallery


Northern British Columbia

ca. 1820-40

wood, paint, hide

height: 7 ¾"

Inventory # N2978-1


acquired by the Thomson Collection, now at the Art Gallery of Ontario


Collected by Anglican lay minister William Duncan in 1863 at the village of Metlakatla


Tsimshian Treasures, Ellis (ed.), Vancouver, Douglas & McIntyre, 2007, pgs. 6, 102-105

Northwest Coast masks carved with naturalistic countenance are often referred to as portrait masks due to their resemblance to actual individuals. The exceptional mask pictured here was likely the property of a Tsimshian shaman, and incorporates animal hide as facial hair to represent a particular spirit that assisted him in his work. Both the spirits of deceased clan or lineage elders and high ranking individuals from other social groups frequently appear in shaman’s masks.

The present mask was acquired by the Scottish Reverend Robert J. Dundas from the English lay missionary William Duncan on a trip to Canada in 1863. In 1862, Duncan had established a model Church of England mission at Old Metlakatla, an abandoned settlement near Prince Rupert, B.C. Dundas acquired almost 80 objects from Duncan, including crest helmets, rattles and antler clubs which remained in the Dundas family for several generations.

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