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Pacific Coast

This model totem pole was made by traditional master sculptor Charles Edenshaw, great-grandfather of modern master Robert Davidson. The works of Edenshaw and Davidson span a century of change for the Haida people of the Canadian west coast. The argillite totem pole interprets a well-known Haida narrative, representing how Raven, the great mythmaker, stole the light that his grandfather jealously guarded, and cast the orb into the sky, where it became the Sun. Edenshaw was one of many artists who earned their reputations by carving argillite. These carvings were among the first and most enduring of the Northwest Coast art forms produced for the curio market. By the end of the nineteenth century, model totem poles like Edenshaw's had come to typify the art of argillite carving. Artists like Edenshaw and Davidson, who are able to reinterpret traditional artistic forms within a changing culture, attest to the continuing vitality of Northwest Coast Indian art. (Haida)

This stone mask has a twin residing in Paris in the Musée de l'Homme. Separated over one hundred years ago, the two masks were not reunited until 1975, when the Paris mask travelled to Canada to appear in the exhibition "Images Stone: B.C." It was then that the relationship between the two masks, expressions of the same face, was discovered.

The Museum's mask, without apertures for eyes, fits snugly over the Paris mask, with its round eyeholes. It is thought that the pair was worn in a naxnox performance, where an individual's personal power was displayed in dance. To present the illusion of the eyes actually opening and closing, the dancer must have turned quickly while removing the "blind" mask to reveal the one with eyeholes. The dancer would have needed considerable strength to hold the four-kilogram inner "sighted" mask in place with the wooden mouthpiece, although a harness attached through holes in the mask's rim might have helped support it. The "unsighted" mask may have been held in the hand, concealed by the dancer's costume.

Since naxnox masks and other dance paraphernalia were kept hidden away when not in use, the audience would have thought that there was only one stone mask, and that it had the ability to open and close its eyes as some of the wooden transformation masks could do.

William Duncan, the missionary who established Metlakatla, British Columbia, offered the sighted stone mask for sale in 1878, noting that it represented the "Thief"; he also referred to a stone mask that was the "fellow" to the one he had for sale. In Northwest Coast mythology, "Thief " refers to Raven, who is a culture hero of the Tsimshian Indians. One of the Raven stories recounts how he stole the sun and then released it on the Nass River to illuminate what had been a totally dark world. The theatre of the mask may have emphasized the dramatic moment for humanity in the transition from unseeing to seeing.

The association of a missionary with the collection of the masks may indicate that the native owner found that their power was not compatible with Christianity. The Paris mask was collected from the missionary by the explorer Alphonse Pinart and donated to the Musée de l'Homme in 1881. The Ottawa mask was collected in 1879 by Israel Wood Powell, deputy commissioner of Indian Affairs for British Columbia. Although he recorded acquiring the mask at Kitkatla, Powell did not visit the village that year. In view of the confusion in his records, it is probable that he acquired it in another community. One possibility is that both masks originated in Port Simpson. (Coast Tsimshian)

Floral designs on articles made by the Indians of the northern forests were once thought to be traditional native motifs. Yet, such patterns are seldom seen on items made before 1800, and were never present in prehistoric native art expressions. The designs on this mid-nineteenth-century Métis pouch clearly represent European flowers in compositions that are reminiscent of colonial folk art. This influence is not surprising when we consider that Ursuline nuns in Québec in the mid-1600s had started mission schools in which they instructed native girls in the art of embroidery. Truly floral art, however, had its genesis in the Great Lakes region in the late eighteenth century. There, Métis women living at missions and fur trade posts integrated realistic floral designs into their pictorial vocabulary. By the time the Métis had settled on the Red River, their floral artistry was so distinctive that they came to be called the Flower Beadwork People by the Indians of the region. Pictured here is a Métis octopus pouch - so called for the four double tabs at the bottom. Made of cloth, such pouches were embroidered with silk thread or beads, and were used for carrying pipe, tobacco, and flint-and-steel. Gradually, through trade and intermarriage with the Métis, native peoples began to borrow their brilliant floral motifs, and the style spread throughout northwestern Canada, leading to the development of several local variants. (Metis)

One of Canada's great national treasures, this North-west Coast mask can be transformed from the outer image of an eagle to the inner image of a supernatural being in human form. This is accomplished by pulling an elaborate set of cords attached to hinged panels that extend to form a corona. At the moment of transformation, the performer turned his back to the audience to conceal the action and heighten the mystery. The flickering light of the fire around which he danced further enhanced the dramatic effect. The ghostlike faces painted on the corona probably represent the souls of the owner's family in the underworld awaiting rebirth. Their incarnation was controlled by the supernatural being, whose face was revealed only during these secret winter ceremonies. The human hair surrounding the inner face probably came from an enemy, thus increasing the power of the mask. Israel Wood Powell, the first deputy commissioner of Indian Affairs for British Columbia, collected the mask in the Queen Charlotte Islands in 1879. It shows the stylistic features of the Bella Bella people, who live on the coast midway between the Haida and the Bella Coola. It may have come into the hands of a northern Haida chief via intertribal trading of ceremonial treasures, which was common among the most powerful chiefs of the coastal tribes. (Haida, Heiltsuk)

This gold-plated sculpture was made by Robert Davidson, great-grandson of the traditional master sculptor Charles Edenshow and a modern master himself. The works of Edenshaw and Davidson span a century of change for the Haida people of the Canadian west coast. In his sculpture Davidson portrays Raven as the bearer of light and knowledge. Like his great-grandfather, Davidson works in many media. He cast this sculpture in bronze and covered it with gold to symbolize the sun. Artists like Edenshaw and Davidson, who are able to reinterpret traditional artistic forms within a changing culture, attest to the continuing vitality of Northwest Coast Indian art. (Haida)

This cedar storage box has four sides that are made from a single hand made board. The lid is carved from a single piece of wood, but hollowed out on the underside to make it lighter. The front and back painted designs each depict a large, stylized head with body and appendages. (Haida)

These snowshoes are made with two side pieces bound together with wire. The main lashing is a rectangular array of thick thong, while the front and back sections have a random meshwork of thin thong. (Gitksan, Tsimshian)

These netmaking needles are carved from a single piece of flat wood, with the proximal end being carved out in a U-shape leaving two extensions at both sides. (Gitksan, Tsimshian)

This wooden face mask of a naxnoq (supernatural being) has a very prominent chin and nose as well as a ridged forehead. The mask's eyeholes are pierced between its nose and eyes. The edges of the mask are slightly charred. A leather forehead strap is nailed to edges at the back. (Gitksan, Tsimshian)

This eagle grave monument is carved from a piece of large wood. The undersides of the eagle's partially outspread wings are painted black and white. The breast, throat and eyes show traces of white paint. The legs have been replaced with new ones at some points in its history. (Nuxalk)

This club is made from finely carved wood and has a metal harpoon blade representing the figure's nose and abalone shell inserts for the eyes. A line of triangular shape shell inserts run across the forehead. Tufts of brown human hair are set into holes in the back of head. The harpoon blade has the initials "FS" stamped on one side. There is an unknown animal's head carved into the bottom of the handle. (Unknown)