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Baleen Whale Mask

Arts of the Americas

On View: Great Hall, 1st Floor
Masks like this are owned by a particular person who has inherited the rights to make, wear, and perform with it during potlatch ceremonies, elaborate communal celebrations. The mask is worn along the dancer’s back while he imitates the swimming and diving of the whale by manipulating cords to move the flippers, tail, and jaw. Others sing, shake rattles, and drum during the presentation. Such performances reaffirm and validate the owner’s rights to their clan’s history, honor their ancestors, and bring the mask to life.
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 Great Hall, 1st Floor
CREDIT LINE Museum Expedition 1908, Museum Collection Fund
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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
IMAGE overall, 08.491.8901_view2_acetate_bw.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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