Nuxalk mask carver
Henry Mack helped Vancouver Art Gallery curators yesterday uncrate an
ancient sun mask that will be the signature piece for the major summer
Carved in alder by an unknown Nuxalk 120 years ago and stained with
vermilion obtained in trade from the Orient, the sun mask lit up an
"We get our dances from the sun, so we dance from the east to the west to
represent the way the sun rose. That's different from all other First
Nations," explained Mack, who carves for ceremonial occasions and not for
"All the 10 First Nations cultural groups on the West Coast had a great
mythic ancestor who came from the sky, and when he landed on Earth he
would shimmer with a certain aura," explained Peter Mcnair, a guest
curator retired after 30 years at the Royal BC Museum. " The concept of
coming down from the shimmering sky is nearly universal on the West
Among the gallery's most ambitious exhibits, the June 4 to Oct.12 show,
"Down From The Shimmering Sky : Masks Of The Northwest Coast", brings
together 175 old and contemporary masks obtained from 35 private
collections and 22 museums in Canada, Europe and the U.S.
The Nuxalk sun mask was acquired in the early1900's by George Hunt, a
Kwakiutl employed by anthropologist Franz Boas, who plundered and shipped
native artifacts all over the world.
(Mack observed: "If they hadn't been stolen and kept by museums, we'd
never have them today.")
The exhibit, aided by $200,000 from Scotia bank, will be divided into five
groups. The first looks at Human Face masks from the 1820s to the present,
the rest at how First Nations perceived the cosmos.
Curated by Menair, the VAG's Bruce Grenville and Kwakwanka'wakw Chief
Robert Joseph, the exhibit also will showcase the work of modern carvers
Joe David, Robert Davidson, Doug Crammer and Tim Paul.