For information on the genesis of the mask carving tradition in the Northwest Coast please see Edward Malin, A World of Faces: Masks of the Northwest Coast Indians, Portland, 1978, p. 41: "The earliest European explorers have left their impressions of the masks and their usage among the Northwest Coast Indians. Since the art was well developed by then, we can assume that masks had been produced for a very long time. So when we speak of their beginnings, we are peering back into prehistory, and there are no records to help us."
Ibid., pp. 13 - 14
"The flood of trade items which reached the coast in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries gave the Indians easy access to knives, nails, chisels and axes made of iron. Other materials such as canvas, cloth, buttons, and paints also became available. Traditional, laboriously-made tools for carving were gradually discarded in favor of superior implements or novel materials. Metal tools facilitated carving to the point where demand on the artist's productivity increased, given the competitive nature of the societies. Artists were spurred to innovate, to astonish and awe the viewers of a patron's history at an important potlatch. Each effort pushed back horizons of the artist's perception, and they revealed with increasing clarity and skill the nuances of their assignment. Metal tools unleashed the artist's capacity to produce more easily, to express bold new ideas, and contrive experiments, which fueled the fires of competition between rival tribes.
More and more apprentices flocked to established carvers to take up the challenge of mask making. A veritable explosion of masks followed. Northwest Coast society crystallized into a culture of specialists: those who carved dugout canoes, others who carved totem poles, those who specialized in box making, household items, ceremonial paraphernalia, and masks and costumes."
For a related mask, of similar construction, see Sotheby's New York, June 2004, lot 21.
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