Carved with a totemic hawk's face, with broad downward turned mouth, large hooked nose with slightly rounded nostrils, ovoid eye rims and thick arching brows, painted overall in black, white, gray, red and deep green with curvilinear decorations; elaborate scalloped border carved separately and attached along the back.
Collected by Walter C. Waters, curio dealer, Wrangell, Alaska
Possibly a New York Gallery or Private Collector
May Company, Los Angeles, California
See Sotheby's Paris, June 2008, lot 4, for a comparable example.
From a written assessment on this piece by Steven C. Brown: "Among the Kwakwaka'wakw of northern Vancouver Island and the adjacent mainland, the sun is a representation that is fairly often encountered in masks, totem poles, and housefront decoration. The sun is a crest emblem, a type of image that symbolizes family history, and is a highly valued element of the inherited prerogatives that are passed down from one generation to another through the potlatch system. The relatively wide dispersal of the sun emblem in numerous families and villages may suggest that it is a very old crest symbol, distributed through a broadly spreading family tree by marriage and direct inheritance.
This mask, like others of its type, symbolizes the sun through its employment of an encircling corona that represents rays of light emanating outward from the central face. The nine rays of this mask are short and rounded, a characteristic of earlier versions of the representation. More recently made and contemporary sun masks have tended to employ a larger corona and/or long, narrow rays in an effort to produce a larger and more imposing image. The central face of many sun masks, including this one, is carved in the form of a humanoid bird with a strongly recurved beak. This is often described as representing a hawk or a thunderbird, though other interpretations may also be possible depending on individual family traditions.
The sculpture and painting of this mask are in the style of a well-known carver of the turn of the twentieth century, Charlie James of Alert Bay, British Columbia, whose common Kwakwala names were Yakudlas and Dak'uma. A member of the Kwagyuhl band or tribe of the Kwakwaka'wakw, he was sometimes referred to as 'One-Armed James' due to the disuse of his left arm, the result of a severe hand injury early in his life. Nonetheless, he was a prolific and highly accomplished artist, producing a wide array of traditional work well into the first decades of the twentieth century. Elements of his style visible in this mask include the particular shape and attitude of the eyelids and eyebrows, the shapes of various formline elements employed in the surface painting, and the distribution of colors, which is related to that of other Kwakwaka'wakw artists, but handled in a recognizably Charlie James manner.
James' signature style can be seen in many different types of masks, including highly complex, articulated examples, as well as houseposts, large totem poles, and innumerable model poles from six inches to three feet and more in height. James's model poles are often highly sculptured compositions that feature complex, interwoven figures. They frequently include asymmetrical features or arrangements that are very unusual among Kwakwaka'wakw and other Northwest Coast artists, which can also be seen in certain of his full-sized poles and houseposts as well. The number of James' model totems that survive is quite large, probably somewhere in the dozens if not hundreds of examples. Many, but certainly not all, of the smaller model poles were made rather quickly, and many of their details, though carefully rendered, are merely painted in place and not relief-carved as they would be on a fully sculpted pole or larger model.
In 1914, Charlie James was commissioned to carve two large houseposts for the filming of the Edward S. Curtis feature film, "In the Land of the Headhunters" (the title of which has since been changed to "In the Land of the War Canoes"). The carvings feature a thunderbird on top with a grizzly bear holding a human below, and were incorporated into a false houseframe built especially for the filming. The house included only two walls, on the rear and one side, and no roof, in order to allow as much natural light as possible into the camera's field of view. A series of traditional dances, including several with masked performers, was filmed in the partial house and incorporated into the storyline of the film. The same houseposts doubled as the carvings for another house in the film by superimposing a different carved figure over the lower bear and human images of the original posts. These two 1914 houseposts were later placed in a small group of totem poles from the British Columbia coast within Stanley Park, a large and spectacular peninsula of preserved forest land at the edge of downtown Vancouver, BC. Pictures and drawings of these particular posts have served as the media image of Northwest Coast totem poles in tourist brochures and advertising layouts from British Columbia to Alaska throughout the twentieth century.
Charlie James' most remarkable work is perhaps the interior totem pole he carved for the Christ Church Cathedral in Victoria, BC, that is housed in the church Memorial Hall in Victoria. This finely finished and beautifully conceived totem pole includes a thunderbird and a bear holding an asymmetrically arranged killer whale that reaches across the composition from left to right. The whale's pectoral and dorsal fin protrude from one side of the pole, while its head extends outward on the other. The level of detail and finely finished surfaces on this pole are a tribute to James' artistic abilities, illustrating that when he was properly motivated, he would 'pull out the stops', and hold back no effort."
Please call 1-800-555-5555 to order a print catalog for this sale.
Online Registration to Bid is Closed for this Sale. Would you like to watch the live sale?Watch Live Sale