Eskimo Wood Mask with Glass Beads

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Item number: 5518

This great old spruce wood mask was hand carved in the late 1800's in southern Alaska, from St. Michael down to Nunivak Island. The mask features carved out eyes, slitted against the sun reflecting off the snow with brows and cheekbones deftly carved above and below. The long, straight nose that extends out from the face has carved out nostrils, while the typical lipless mouth has upper and lower teeth.

All the edges of the mask have small holes, fairly evenly spaced, that were done with a handcrafted drill made with a nail. These holes, which, like the eyes and mouth can be seen from both sides, were meant to hold bird feathers and/or a wooden structure that stood out from the mask and held feathers, carvings, etc. While the mask is unpainted, there are traces of black pigment around the eyes and mouth.

The high domed forehead has a strip of leather hide, nailed onto it with hand cut forged iron nails, each one with a pattern on its head. Red, black and white glass beads in a diamond pattern were sewn onto the leather strip, ending in tassels of white beads on each side. (Eskimos began trading with fur trappers for glass beads in the 1820's.) All the beads are intact and unbroken.

The mask measures about 10 inches from top to bottom, 7 inches wide across the eyes and projects from the wall 3 inches. It weighs 19 ounces and is in excellent condition, as found, with a wonderful patina (difficult to photograph, though). There is a twisted piece of wire on the back for hanging.

Eskimo masks were created for shamans for ritual use. This Alaskan mask is a superb example and a great find. Plus, it looks spectacular wherever its placed---wall, shelf or stand.


PYH 5518