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The Steven Michaan Collection of North American Tribal Art : The Art of the Spirit World : Actic
Fragmentary Anthropomorphic Face Mask
Wood, 8 ½” Height, c.1600
Inuit Fragementary Anthropomorphic  Face Mask
Inuit Fragementary Anthropomorphic  Face Mask

This curious mask fragment is enigmatic within a collection of objects centered around functional pursuits such as hunting and fishing. Without the lower jaw and mouth, we are left with a pair of empty, searching eyes, a curi-
ous round hole at the top of the forehead, a prominent nose and subtly expressive eyebrows. The incisions and scratches of abuse have littered this face into a beaten patina of evidence; it seems to have emerged from a centuries-old feud, or excavated from permafrost (a more likely explanation).

The mask is modeled with the naturalism suggestive of western classical sculpture, and if this had been carved from marble rather than wood, it might find itself prominently displayed in the Roman galleries of the Louvre, Metropolitan or British Museums. But this was never designed as a precious object, hung on a bronze mount. Most likely, the hole in the center of its forehead suggests it had been nailed to a tree.

Southern traders and gold miners discovered this to be common practice upon encountering native Alaskans in the Kuskokwim Valley, noting that at the completion of long potlatches and dance ceremonies, the shaman’s masks were often to be found hung from trees, left out to the elements. They had been used for their purpose and afterwards, drained of their spiritual power, discarded and inert.

Could this be why this particular mask has received the abuse it exhibits? Perhaps the loss of its mouth tells us enough.