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Whale Mask

Kwakwaka'wakw 
Northern Vancouver Island, British Columbia

late 19th century

wood, paint, metal, hide, cotton cord
16" high (to top articulated eagle head)
48" long (to end articulated tail)
11 1/4" wide
2 side fins: 15 1/2"
top dorsal fin: 20 1/4"

Inventory # CN3250

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sections of over paint removed, minor retouching of green & blue pigments, cotton cordage replaced

PROVENANCE

Reportedly field collected at Alert Bay in the 1930's
Kennedy Family Collection, Los Angeles, CA
Howard Roloff, Victoria, BC
William Greenspan, New York, NY
Donald Ellis Gallery, Dundas, ON
Private collection, Toronto, ON

EXHIBITED

Los Angeles City Museum, Los Angeles, CA

PUBLISHED

Donald Ellis Gallery Catalogue, 2005, pgs. 4-5

RELATED EXAMPLES 

The Brooklyn Museum, no. 08.491.8901 - See: Objects of Myth and Memory: American Indian Art at the Brooklyn Museum. Fane, Diane, Jacknis, Ira, Breen, Lisa M.  Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1991, pl. 287

Museum of Anthropology, University of British Columbia, Nos. A6316, A4506 - See: Art of The Kwakiutl, Hawthorn, University of WA Press, 1967, pl. XVII

American Museum of Natural History, No. 16/8390 - See: Chiefly Feasts, Jonaitis, University of Washington Press, 1991, pl. 6.4

Milwaukee Public Museum, Nos. 17312, 17314, 17315, 17365 - See: Masks of the Northwest Coast, Milwaukee Public Museum, Nos. 52, 53

Philbrook Art Center, Tulsa, OK, No. L82.1.881 - See: Arts of the North American Indian: Native Traditions in Evolution, Wade, Hudson Hills Press, New York, 1986, pl. 110

Essay

Complex articulated masks from the Kwakwaka'wakw are more numerous than from any other Northwest Coast group. They range from transformation masks that changed from one outward appearance to another, to large figures of whales and sea monsters made of many separate parts. Some articulated masks were made to be worn on the face, while others were so large that they were worn on the dancer’s back. This whale mask, at four feet in length, is among the most significant examples of this type.

With the mask poised on his back, the dancer would be able to see through the mouth of the creature. The whale’s body would rest along the wearer’s spine as he bent from the waist, moving about the performance house in a crouch, mimicking the animal’s movements and the rolling waves of the sea.

The animated mask illustrated here features movable hinged pectoral fins, dorsal fin, tail and lower jaw. A small eagle’s head is situated at the location of the whale’s blowhole, pivoting from within the whale’s head when the dorsal fin is lowered, as seen here.

This impressive complex mask cannot help but inspire awe and appreciation for the skill of the Kwakwaka'wakw artist that created this elaborate imitation of a living being.

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CEREMONIAL BATON CN4144

Southern Northwest Coast
possibly Columbia River

18th century or earlier
CN4144
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EFFIGY BOWL N4173

Haida or Tlingit
Northern BC/Southeast Alaska

ca. 1860
N4173
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