For a discussion of Eskimo masks see Dorothy Jean Ray and Alfred A. Blaker, Eskimo Masks: Art and Ceremony, University of Washington Press, Seattle and London, 1967, pp. 6-7, 9, 11-13, 19, 25, 52, 78, 82, 87, 176, 187, 198: Eskimo masks are typically characterized by an abstract and surrealistic quality resulting from their origins in visions. Existing not as carvings in and of themselves, but "as part of an integrated complex of story, song and dance in religious and secular activities," mask art is mostly a religious tradition, derived from the spirits and created for the spirits by the shaman. These masks were utilized for the maintenance of the proper balance between spirits and human beings, and worn by shaman in their roles as intermediaries, when diagnosing the cause of poor hunting, or some crisis in the weather, for example. Although many categories of spirits were recognized throughout the Eskimo world, each was interpreted differently as a mask, with stylistically similar interpretations within each regional group. In addition to the wide number of religious masks, a small number of secular masks were also created which were reserved for use in festivals.
Religious masks were worn in dances of various festivals and in non-doctoring performances of the shaman.... The festivals (including the whaling and caribou ceremonies of the northern Eskimos) honored spirits of animals or birds important as food or connected with hunting in some magical or religious way. Because dances were performed to influence the animal's spirit and therefore its subsequent behavior, it was important not only to make the masks beautiful and exciting, but to select the best dancers to wear them.
Generally, a shaman would interpret a mask's physical shape from his or her own vision or from traditional forms, and then designate a carver to carry out the design. Masks were typically carved by an expert, although individuals could carve their own guardian spirit masks, and shaman could, if they wished, carve their own masks, all of which was done in great secrecy. A shaman might also dance his or another's mask, or train other men to do so, as every mask had its own story and dance.
For a related example identified as a "short dance mask," collected at Point Barrow, see Henry B. Collins et al, The Far North: 2000 Years of American Eskimo and Indian Art, p. 93, pl. 133.
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