Assembled by Laurie Close
Historical / Cultural Significance
The masks of the Kwakiutl, were woven into and dramatically
displayed in the rich ceremonial like of these Canadian Northwest Coast
people. An abundance of food and of material for carving (red and
yellow cedar) make an elaborate social and ceremonial structure possible,
and masks were used for virtually every occasion. The Kwakiutl borrowed,
adapted, and elaborated many themes into complex series of dances, ceremonies,
and theatrical preformances. Masks were a very important part of these
activities since they gave life to various mythological, elemental, bird
and animal figures which the people claimed as their ancestors from the
the early days. These supernatural beings had given privileges and special
powers to a family, often in the form of a family crest, song, or dance.
The family would then portray particular mythologycal figures as part of
Principles and Elements of Design
Most of the masks demonstrated a masterful use of line in their smooth
concave and convex curves, with sharp, rigid lines used for effect or
emphasis on a feature. These rigid curves usually delineated nostrils, eyes
and lips through deeply cut carving and/or the use of contrasting color, adding
to the form of the mask. Most of the lines had the tendency to run parallel
and taper to a terminal point at each end creating contrast in shape
between the geometric and organic lines. The Kwakiutl especially demonstrated
strong, clear carving, and painting was used to enhance, emphasize or embellish
the basic form of the mask. The traditional Kwakiutl choice of colors for
paint were dark red, black, white, and green.
Please see Elements and Principles of Design.
Integration into Music/Dance/Drama
In the Kwakiutl calendar, the summer or Bakoostime was the non-ceremonial
part of the year. The winter months, or Tsetseka, was the climax of the year; the
ceremonial or supernatural season when elaborate theatrical preformances and
ceremonies were staged. The Tsetseka was preceeded by the Klasila; a four day period
of song, dance, and ceremony when virtually all types of masks were displayed. Potlaches
were another occasion where masks were vital for enacting family dances and dramas
accompanied by song.
For more ideas on Northwest and West Coast Native art you can
Komokwa, Masks, Killer Whales
West Coast Native Art
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