Posted: January 9, 2012
Sandy Furman (BA, 1959, Architectural Studies) and his wife Mimi donated two Northwest Coast masks to the Spurlock Museum's collection of Native American cultural objects. A trip to British Columbia 25 years ago sparked an enduring interest in Northwest Coast indigenous art and culture.
Masks hold great power for Northwest Coast native cultures, and are used as a part of elaborate ceremonies to share cultural beliefs and traditions. The masks in the Furman collection have been made in recent decades as part of the revival of Northwest Coast art that began in the 1960s. These contemporary masks, with their traditional colors, designs, and subjects, testify to the connection between past and present in indigenous Northwest Coast culture.
According to anthropologist and curator Peter MacNair, "Contemporary Northwest Coast artists are not only inspired to create masks with meaning for both sale and ceremonial use but many of them also are committed to passing on their cultural and artistic traditions, with deep roots that predate the memories of seven generations." It is with this sentiment in mind that the Furmans hope their donation "will contribute to the understanding and appreciation of Northwest Coast native people."
Transformation plays a large part in Northwest Coast mythology, as animals regularly take on human form and humans are changed into animals. Transformational masks are distinctive of the Kwakwaka’wakw nations. Constructed of string and pulley systems, the mask opens to reveal one image inside another, often revealing two or three additional images.
The Spurlock Museum mask begins with the Raven and opens to reveal the Frog. The Raven holds a prominent role in Northwest Coast mythology, and the Frog is sometime depicted as the Raven's wife.
In Understanding Northwest Coast Art, Cheryl Shearar states "Hawk is often associated with Sun, and is revered for its superior vision and skill in hunting." The Sun is depicted through the use of rays around the exterior of this mask.
MacNair, Peter, Robert Joseph and Bruce Grenville. Down from the Shimmering Sky: Masks of the Northwest Coast. Vanouver Art Gallery, 1998.
Shearar, Cheryl. Understanding Northwest Coast Art: A Guide to Crests, Beings and Symbols. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2000.
Most of the artifacts in New Acquisitions articles are chosen to allow website visitors to explore artifacts that are not on display in the Museum's galleries. Try searching the database or exploring the Virtual Tour to find artifacts on display.