Full Size

Volcano Woman

Height: 10 inches.
Harris collection.
Carved from alder.

This piece represents the Volcano Woman from a legend involving three brothers, hunters, who threw frogs into their campfire each night they camped . Each time they did this there was a glow on a distant mountain, accompanied by rumbling and a woman's voice crying, “Why are you mistreating my children?”

The brother throws a frog in the fire each night, with the woman’s pleading growing more emphatic. On the fourth night, the mountain spewed forth a great flame and the woman rose up wailing from the center of it, with tears of lava flowing from her eyes, which turned into frogs.


Full Size

Laughing Shaman

Height: 16 inches. Artist’s collection.
Carved from alder, with horse hair and shredded cedar bark.

I had just felled a huge alder tree and was really in the mood to carve something large when Roland Crawford invited me to participate in the “Laughing Faces” show for his Objects of Bright Pride gallery in New York. So I cut a nice, fat, clear section of wonderful fresh alder and began shaping.

People generally picture shamans as fearsome. I wanted mine to be one that could step out of his role for a while and have the kind of good time I was having in creating him. I enjoy giving my masks a more natural character, and this gave me a chance to study people with fleshy faces.

High Noon

Diameter: 36 inches. Artist’s collection.
Carved from western red cedar, with shredded cedar bark.

Representations are the sun, red-tailed hawk, Steller’s jay, and a human figure indicative of me—common themes in my work. Several years ago, a pair of red-tailed hawks would circle over the house, often quite low. One day, hoping to photograph them, I brought out my camera. Just like clock-work, I heard the familiar shriek and looked up, camera in hand. They circled into the glare of the sun, still calling, but I never saw them again. Then I heard the call again behind me. I turned to see a Steller’s jay making that call, a perfect imitation. It reminded me of the many traditional Northwest Coast legends involving transformation.


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Spawning Moon

Diameter: 36 inches. Artist’s collection.
Carved from western red cedar, with shredded cedar bark.

Representation is a full moon with sixteen low-relief carvings of various animals, birds, and fish. These are represented in the “Straits Salish” style, which has been somewhat overlooked during the “revival” of Northwest Coast Native Art in this century. I enjoy working in this form, incorporating it when I can persuade a client of its charm. I thought of calling this piece “Spawning Moon,” with low-relief salmon circling the corona. Then I reasoned that the spawning season has an effect on all creatures, not only salmon. Represented here are a killer whale, heron, frog, fox, rabbit, hawk, jay, owl, and a few salmon and trout.

Bill Holm

Height: 12 inches. Artist’s collection.
Carved from red alder, with mountain goat hair,
copper, and acrylic paint.

Bill Holm is well known throughout the world as an artist, scholar, and teacher of Northwest Coast Native Art. He has been an inspiration and a great resource to artists in this medium.

In recognition for his generous sharing of information, I carved this portrait mask and impersonated him at a party at his home. As a result of this he persuaded me to wear the mask and do impersonations for his classes at the University of Washington. When Bill retired from his teaching position I curtailed its use. It will eventually be housed in the Burke Museum.


Full Size

Pileated Woodpecker

Length: 36 inches. Artist’s collection.
Carved from western red cedar, with shredded
cedar bark,carved feathers, and acrylic paint.

I live on five wooded acres surrounded by Suquamish Indian reservation timberland. There is an abundance of natural phenomena here to inspire my artwork, and this is one of them. Every spring, several of these wonderful birds squabble for dominance over territory.

In the process of teaching Native Art classes at the Port Gamble S’klallam tribe of Washington there, I was fascinated to find out that when the canoe carvers went on a spirit quest, they hoped to receive the pileated woodpecker as a personal spirit helper. The representation of an old man on the underside of the woodpecker's lower beak isn’t me.


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Halait

Height: 12 inches. Terrana collection.
Carved from red alder, with horse hair,
bone, and acrylic paint.

This is an articulated mask, having rolling eyes and movable
lower jaw.

Halait is a Gitk’san word loosely translated in literature as “shaman.” During winter ceremonies, house chiefs are halaits and the village chief is a wi- halait or great halait, the director of the ceremony, at which he may heal an individual, sing, do masked performances, and perform magic.

Another translation of the word halait is something like “more than knowing,” As in one who understands the workings of the cosmos and is in tune with the ways of the spiritual as well as the
natural world.


Full Size

King of the Mountain

Height: 14 inches. Artist’s collection.
Carved from spalted alder, with shredded
cedar bark, horse hair, and acrylic paint.

Spalting occurs in deciduous trees after they have been cut down and left to lie for some time. In alder it is recognized by white streaking in the wood.

I think mountain goats are one of the most majestic of animals. I’ve seen them on hiking trips in the Olympic Mountains, and fantasized about waking in the morning to find one in human form peering into my tent, saying, “What are you doing on my mountain?”

Northwest Coast natives would weave mountain goat wool into their dancing robes, and also hunted them for their meat and horns (which were made into spoons). I was told by Gitk’san elders that Mountain goat skin made the best drums. I once attended a potlatch on the Skeena River for which a huge stew was made with Mountain Goat meat to serve all in attendance . It was called “sup m gal dzap,” or “the Village Bowl” and was delicious.


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Frontlet

9 inches × 7 inches. Artist’s collection.
Carved from alder, with abalone shell inlay
and acrylic paint.

Frontlets are attached to a swan skin bonnet that includes trim and trail of ermine skin. The entire costume includes apron, leggings and robe.

I admire the work of the 19th century Tsimshian people, who lived along the Nass and Skeena rivers and the northern coast of British Columbia. During potlatches and winter ceremonies the “frontlet,” or amhalait, is part of the formal attire of high-ranking people and those who perform for them. They are carved to represent one of the “house” crests of the owner. The frontlet costume consists usually of leggings, apron, a dancing robe or button blanket, and swan skin bonnet with ermine skin trail. The amhalait is surmounted with sea lion whiskers into which eagle down is placed. During the dance the down is broadcasted from the bonnet when the dancer tips his head this way and that. The eagle down is a means of blessing the floor in a long house, or the waters if done from a canoe.


Full Size

Thunderbird and Killer Whale

Width: ~42 inches when open. Schubert collection.
Carved from western red cedar, with shredded cedar bark.

Painted with natural pigment using acrylic medium as a binder.

A client wanted me to carve a 7-foot house post at a time when I was inundated with totem pole commissions. Over coffee and doughnuts I cordially informed him that I could do that, but “I ‘druther do something else.” He said, “What would you ‘druther do?” I replied “I ’druther do a three-way transformation mask.” “Go for it,” he replied. So, I did. I dove into it spontaneously and with relish. Articulated pieces like this are a challenge to the creative mind. I was happy with the results and so was he.


Full Size

Devil Fish

15 inches × 11 inches. Artist’s collection.
Carved from alder, with shredded cedar bark
and acrylic paint.

A good friend and apprentice, Ed Charles, wanted to carve a copy of an elderly human face mask from a nineteenth-century Bella Coola artist, name unknown, whose work is recognizable from photographs for his propensity for exaggerating the brows and receding the chin to the extreme. We cut two blocks of alder and Ed followed my lead as we shaped the general configuration of our individual masks. I decided to make a personified Devilfish and so I turned the brows into octopus tentacles, which continued down the sides and coiled around small fish. The sea urchins on top are fashioned from round wooden drawer pulls with bamboo skewers for spines.


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Prince and the Salmon People

Diameter: 40 inches. Melander/Dayton collection. Carved from Alaskan yellow cedar, with shredded cedar bark, acrylic paint, and opercula of red turban snail.

This mask was inspired by the Tsimshian story of a boy taken from his famine-stricken village by the chief of the salmon. He was schooled in all the ways of salmon and, during his return by canoe, found himself in the body of the salmon chief, while all those with him were changed to salmon. The shaman of the boy’s village caught the salmon chief, and in cleaning it discovered the boy who had been missing.

The boy taught his people how to respect the salmon and ensure their future return. Representations are the shaman, small salmon swimming around a corona of water, the Salmon Chief, and the
boy prince.


Full Size

Night Stalker

Height: 24 inches. Campbell collection.
Carved from western red cedar, with
shredded cedar bark and acrylic paint.

For a while I kept Araucuna chickens, which lay blue-green eggs and have very interesting feathering that I sometimes used in my work. Late one night, my apprentice and I were working on a totem pole outside when we heard a blood-curdling scream. Assuming that a woman was being stabbed to death down by the road, we searched with a flashlight but found nothing. Then we heard the scream again—from above us. Directing the flashlight beam into the trees, we discovered a great horned owl high on a branch mantling my prize egg-layer and ripping at her throat with its beak. I guess what we had heard was the hen’s death song.

Herring Ball

Diameter: 32 inches. Artist’s collection.
Carved from western red cedar, with
shredded cedar bark, acrylic paint, and opercula of red turban snail.

In 1976, I was standing on a point a couple of miles north of Sitka, Alaska, watching a “herring ball.” It was a huge, swirling mass of herring, salmon, sea lions, and seagulls. All of a sudden, a killer whale shot up from the center. It grabbed one of the sea lions and tossed it ten or fifteen feet. He swam over, grabbed it again and threw it. It was like a cat with a mouse. Then it was gone.


Full Size

Kitsap

Height: 10 inches without hair. Artist's collection.
Carved from Alder, with horse hair, cedar bark, abalone shell, and turkey feathers.

Although carved in Bella Coola style this mask represents Kitsap, the famous chief of the Suquamish. Kitsap county is named for him.

Kitsap was a highly respected Suquamish chief who lived during the early 1800s.In one story, Kitsap led a large fighting group of conscripts from villages around the region in a retaliatory campaign against the Cowichan of southeastern Vancouver Island, who were known for plundering Puget Sound tribes and taking slaves.

During the fierce, final battle, the Cowichans concentrated their fire on Kitsap, but because of his powerful medicine the arrows bounced off his body or landed in his hair, and he calmly fired them back at his adversaries.

The small skulls in the hair of this mask represent Kitsap’s dead foes. And some of the arrows are still there.

Portfolio: masks
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Masks were an important part of ceremony on the Northwest coast, carved by skilled artists for the use of their client who as a chief and hosting a potlatch would assign dancers to perform with a particular mask , which represented a crest figure, creature, or other phenomenon, real, or supernatural. These could be as simple as a miniature face on a finger puppet to a giant cannibal bird.

Traditionally, all masks produced on the Northwest coast were for ceremonial use. There are three basic types: over the face, atop the head, and forehead masks (frontlets). Frontlets were attached to a head- band or bonnet with the face of the wearer visible and usually unpainted.

Masks worn over the head, such as the large Kwakwakawakw cannibal bird masks, often had the face of the wearer obscured with black or red paint, or by a veil of shredded cedar bark attached to the mask.

Masks that totally covered the face of the dancer represented particular creatures from the forest, sea, or sky. Sometimes the masks represented actual people, of whom the performance might be in honor (or ridicule).

Larger masks were generally carved from western red cedar, while smaller masks were generally of red alder or birch.

If I make a mask for a Non-Native client I usually make certain it fits my own face, although it will likely never be worn. I also carve large mask-like pieces that are more like theater props.

Volcano Woman

Height: 10 inches.
Harris collection.
Carved from alder.

Laughing Shaman

Height: 16 inches. Artist’s collection.
Carved from alder, with horse hair and shredded cedar bark.

High Noon

Diameter: 36 inches. Artist’s collection.
Carved from western red cedar, with shredded cedar bark.