closed-eye mask

open-eye mask

While clearing out all these papers I've collected over the last few years, I rediscovered a few pages I had copied out of an old arts gallery book called Arts of the raven: masterworks by the northwest coast Indian by Wilson Duff. Here's the story of how these two masks came back together:

The mystical extent to which Wilson Duff devoted himself to his work is legendary among those who knew him. Following his preparation of the 191-page Arts of the Raven catalogue for a Vancouver Art Gallery exhibit in 1967, Wilson became obsessed with the notion of bringing together the only two stone masks known to exist from the Northwest Coast; one Tsimshian mask with closed eyes was kept in Ottawa and the other with open eyes was kept in Paris. In 1975 he and art gallery director Richard Simmins succeeded in obtaining permission from France to transport their priceless mask to British Columbia. Wilson Duff retrieved the twin mask from the Musée de l'Homme for a one-year period, bringing it to his home in Vancouver; Hilary Stewart transported the mask from Vancouver to the Victoria Art Gallery where it was reunited with the mask from Ottawa. "The sightless mask was lifted carefully and placed over the face of its seeing twin," Stewart recalled. "…the two nested together in a close, snug fit. It was a deeply moving moment as the two masks came together again for the first time in a hundred years or more." The mask from Ottawa had been collected by I.W. Powell at the Tsimshian village of Kitkatla in 1879; the 'open-eye' mask was donated to the French Museum of Man by Alphone Pinart, said to have been collected at Metlakatla or on the Nass River. After consulting with Musqueam Della Kew, Duff ensured the twin stone masks were henceforth stored together, one cradled by the other, each an equal part of a whole. He later wrote, "Life is a pair of twin stone masks which are the very same but have opposite eyes." The masks represented the "living paradoxes in myth and life" that he believed were near the source of Northwest Coast Aboriginal art. (from this article)

Another website I found described the dance that may or may not have used these masks — the dancer would spin around, alternating the blind and sighted masks at each turn so that viewers would see an open-eyed stone mask in one moment, and a closed-eye stone mask the next. I imagine the dance performed at night, illuminated by a fire, and the dancer wearing a full black robe, the stone masks probably painted with something to make them shine and seem to hover in the air, blinking as they turn.

Before I lose these loose pages in the complexities of my paper fililng system, I wanted to save them here, where I might have a better chance of finding them again… and of sharing them.

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