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Baleen Whale Mask

Arts of the Americas

 Marine animals, including whales, were long part of the Northwest Coast peoples’ diet. Whale hunting required courage, physical strength, and technical knowledge. This mask was likely worn by a Kwakwa̲ka̲’wakw chief during winter potlatch ceremonies to demonstrate his prestige and celebrate the bounty of the sea. Wearing the heavy mask along his back, the dancer used interior cords to manipulate the fins, mouth, and tail and to mimic swimming and diving. The privilege of performing with a mask, along with the related stories, is passed down through the generations; tribe members perform the whale dance to this day.
CULTURE Kwakwaka'wakw
MEDIUM Cedar wood, hide, cotton cord, nails, pigment
DATES 19th century
DIMENSIONS 23 5/8 x 28 1/2 x 81 1/8 in. (60 x 72.4 x 206 cm)  (show scale)
COLLECTIONS Arts of the Americas
CREDIT LINE Museum Expedition 1908, Museum Collection Fund
CATALOGUE DESCRIPTION Large wooden whale mask carved from 14 pieces of cedar, including the main body carved from one large piece that has been hollowed out. Movable lower jaw, flippers, and flukes are controlled with cords. Head is painted with a red and blue nose and blue eye sockets. Beneath each eye, is black stripe with white dots. Collar is made up of a blue fin design. The whale's blow hole is in the form of a painted and carved face. The dorsal fin, once detachable, is painted and carved with an animal face in profile. The torso is painted with white and blue stripes, and large white dots, running the length of the body which has a white underside.
MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
CAPTION Kwakwaka'wakw. Baleen Whale Mask, 19th century. Cedar wood, hide, cotton cord, nails, pigment, 23 5/8 x 28 1/2 x 81 1/8 in. (60 x 72.4 x 206 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Museum Expedition 1908, Museum Collection Fund, 08.491.8901. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: , 08.491.8901_view01_PS11.jpg)
IMAGE overall, 08.491.8901_view01_PS11.jpg., 2019
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