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Baleen Whale Mask

Arts of the Americas

On View: Arts of the Americas Galleries, 5th Floor
This mask was likely worn by a Kwakwaka’wakw chief during winter potlatch ceremonies to demonstrate his prestige and to celebrate the bounty of the sea. Wearing the heavy mask along his back, the dancer would have manipulated interior cords controlling the mask’s fins, mouth, and tail to mimic swimming and diving. The inherited privilege of performing with a mask, along with its related stories, is passed down through generations, and descendants still perform the whale dance today.
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
MUSEUM LOCATION This item is on view in Arts of the Americas Galleries, 5th Floor
ACCESSION NUMBER 08.491.8901
CREDIT LINE Museum Expedition 1908, Museum Collection Fund
RIGHTS STATEMENT Creative Commons-BY
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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: Brooklyn Museum, 08.491.8901_SL1.jpg)
IMAGE overall, 08.491.8901_SL1.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph
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CATALOGUE DESCRIPTION Large wooden whale mask carved from 14 pieces of cedar, 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 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 dorsil 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.
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