Kwakiutl Eagle

North America | Canada

Kwakiutl Eagle

Canada

Articulated bird mask
Northwest Coast, British Columbia

19th century
Carved painted wood, bark
Dimensions: 11 ¾ in. x 6 in.
30 x 15 cm

Provenance
Ex collection René Rasmussen, Paris
Ex estate sale “Succession René Rasmussen”, Paris, 19 March 1980
Catalogue cover and lot #104 in the sale
Acquired at the above sale and thence in a private American collection for the last 40 years

Published: Fine Arts Paris & La Biennale 2022
Sold
This exceptional articulated mask depicts an eagle. This bird of prey is a powerful crest (totemic emblem) among the Kwakiutl (Kwakwaka'wakw) and more broadly in the entire Pacific Northwest Coast region around Vancouver Island. A ceremonial dancer used this mask to re-enact the story of a clan ancestor transforming from human to animal. The wearer could pull on its strings to close the mouthpiece and produce a powerful sound. This clapping provided rhythm for songs, dances and chants, and attracted shamanic spirits to the séances. The eagle pictured here is associated with the flight of the shaman and symbolizes his ability to soar into the spirit world in order to bring back teachings and guidance to the world of men.
As artist Bill Reid writes ("Form and Freedom: A Dialogue on Northwest Coast Indian Art, 1975"), « what is shown in the decorative motifs and carvings is not the different stages of transformation of beings, but the propensity of every being (human or animal) to embody its own metamorphoses. »
In terms of provenance, until the late 1970s, this mask was in the collection of Parisian art dealer René Rasmussen (1912-1979). It is photographed on the cover of the catalog of the sale of Rasmussen’s estate (March 19th, 1980). Acquired at this sale, this mask has then remained in a private American collection for over 40 years.

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