I used to live in Vancouver in the early 1980s and I’ve been back there three times since. Unlike most people I know who live in Vancouver, I’m not “over” First Nations design. Ever since I was aware of the art of the indigenous people of the American Northwest, I have loved the bold stylised forms they produce and I’ve wanted to own a mask from that area. Alas, the price of native masks has been out of my financial reach for years. First Nation’s masks can be bought in Gastown for as little as $400 CAD, but they are hideous pieces of crap. Very nasty. To buy a halfway decent mask one has to spend at least $2,000 – $3,000 CAD. If you want something really nice you are looking at between $8,000 – $25,000 CAD. At today’s rates the Canadian dollar is worth $1.12 AUD, 92 cents US or .68 EUR.
Last year I was in Vancouver with my sister in Kitsilano near the corner of Alma and 4th when I came across what I think is a Kwakiutl eagle mask in a junk shop.
The junk shop seemed to specialize in old salvaged door and furniture fittings. There were a few masks, mostly of poor quality, strewn about the place as well. I’d almost given up hope of finding anything interesting when by chance I looked up and saw the eagle mask suspended on a wire with an eye screw, screwed into the top of it’s dusty head. I asked to have a closer look at the mask and noticed that not only had it been “used” a fair bit, it also had been completely painted rather than the partial painting that is practiced nowadays to show some of the original wood.
This led me to think that maybe it was made in the late seventies when there perhaps wasn’t as much attention paid to what the tourist market was demanding. The mask almost looks like it’s a prop for a movie but I doubt that it is, because the movie industry would go and rent something like a mask, rather than carve one out of wood from scratch. I also suspect that it was painted all over to disguise what wood (it is made of wood) it was made from, due to the fact that yellow cedar is the wood of choice.
Despite my thoughts about the paintwork, there was no doubting the beautiful proportions and design of the carving. I’d say, that it is without a doubt one of the best eagle masks I’ve ever seen anywhere at any price. I was shocked that the storekeeper only wanted $500 for it and then dropped the price down to $350! Since it was about a month before my birthday, my sister (bless her generous heart!) offered to pay half the asking price as a way of giving me a birthday present. So there you have it, I now have a fantastic eagle mask. I’m so happy to own such a beautiful object that I don’t care that it’s probably not “authentic”.