33
33

PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE CONNECTICUT COLLECTION

Yup'ik or Kuskokwim River Polychrome Wood Mask
Estimate
70,000100,000
LOT SOLD. 74,500 USD
JUMP TO LOT
33

PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE CONNECTICUT COLLECTION

Yup'ik or Kuskokwim River Polychrome Wood Mask
Estimate
70,000100,000
LOT SOLD. 74,500 USD
JUMP TO LOT

Details & Cataloguing

Yup'ik or Kuskokwim River Polychrome Wood Mask
of oval form, encircled by a double frame of wood rods and hide bindings, with a series of three holes, surmounted by a face, with down turned mouth, jagged teeth, flaring oval nostrils, and circular eye rims, painted with a pair of goggles and other (faded) details; the back with a wood "bite."
height 14 1/2 in.
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Provenance

Robert Gierke

Gifted to present owner's grandfather in Winston-Salem, NC

Catalogue Note

Lots 33 and 34 are both found in a historic photograph taken by The Reverend Ferdinand Drebert in the 1920s published in Fienup-Riordan, The Living Tradition of Yup'ik Masks, 1996, p. 280 together with the following text: "Traders provided two outstanding collections of Kuskokwim masks, but they were not the only nonnatives who acquired masks along the Kuskokwim. A number of Moravian missionaries working along the river took things home with them when they left the mission field, including a small number of masks. Gierke's son remembered a group of masks displayed on the wall of his father's store, most of which a missionary later burned. This may be the same group that the Reverend Drebert pictured in his photograph "Heathen Masks," taken in the 1920s...Drebert's photograph shows most of the masks as paired sets. He did not bring any of these opposing sets home in tact, but his photograph provides a unique historical image of a group of paired masks.

Ibid. p. 273,

"Robert Gierke set out from San Francisco to make his fortune in the North. A twenty-three-year-old Wisconsin native, Gierke arrived in Bethel in 1905, and he, too, had trading on his mind...Gierke originally worked near the mouth of the Kuskokwim and along the coast between Bristol Bay and Nelson Island, operating through a network of native traders. Later, he established a general mercantile store at Bethel, where he lived and worked until 1941, when he moved to Seattle. Gierke married a Moravian school teacher in Bethel in 1920...He acquired a reputation as a fair trader among the local population, and both he and his wife were well regarded by natives and nonnatives alike. Gierke had an opportunity to see and to purchase many things during his thirty-six years on living along the Kuskokwim...met and assisted the anthropologist Ales Hrdlicka during his field work along the Kuskokwim in the early 1930s....donated specimens for the Smithsonian collections, which Hedlicka took back with him to Washington, D.C."

For a discussion of Eskimo masks and their uses see Ray, 1967, pp. 17-19: "Masks were worn far more in festival dancing than in shamanistic activities, but the shaman's role in their conception and carving cannot be completely understood without a discussion of their use by him. Some nineteenth-century observers said that the medicine man never used a mask while treating patients, but consulted the spirits, bare-faced, inside his gut-skin parka. However, masks were widely used for curing in the North, though apparently reserved only for cases that had wider implications than a simple illness. For example, if the illness had been caused by breaking a rule, the spirits concerned might bring further troubles to everyone....The shaman most commonly used masks to consult with spirits at a time of crisis, wearing a spirit mask to investigate the cause...The shaman sometimes used masks on his visits to the land of the dead...."

Ibid. pp. 23-24:

"To those who remember the great feats of the shaman, the mask remains one of the mysteries that accompanied his activities. Nevertheless, it was also an object that became of importance to everyone because it was worn by lay dancers, as well as for its ceremonial and artistic values. Of even greater importance was the personification of the spirit world by the shaman in such a form that the visually minded Eskimo was able to see some of the results of shamanistic activity. In this way, he validated the shaman's successful rapport with the spiritual world and reinforced his own relationship to it – in some cases, even after death. The tremendous range in subject matter and style of masks in any one area, and the successful visual realization of imagined forms, can be explained in terms of cultural acceptance and encouragement of such activity. Fe primitive cultures have been more concerned with the conscious pursuit of art than the Eskimo. Thus, the creation of a specific esthetic form from an abstract image or dream was not only the privilege of the artist, but the expectation of others who were to see the finished product."

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