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Eugene and Clare Thaw Collection of American Indian Art
Raven Mask

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Record 233/826
Copyright New York State Historical Association, Cooperstown, NY
Object ID T0232
Object Name Raven Mask
Description Central Yup'ik Eskimo Raven Mask of Doolagiak Carved and painted wood raven mask. The name of the Mask is "Doolagiak" and represents the trickster - raven.; Medium/Materials: Wood, sandhill crane feathers, red, black and white pigment; Marks: Under beak, typewritten on circular label: "467"; on reverse, in black ink: "9/3433" "46"; in pencil: "1911/Dooloogoak/(Raven)/20/Buil" [?];
Dimensions H-16 W-25 D-8 inches
Early Date 1875 ca.
Place of Origin near Bethel, Kuskokwim River, Napaskiak, AK, USA
People Central Yup'ik Eskimo/
Provenance (1) Adams Hollis Twitchell. Bethel, Alaska. Collected on the Kuskokwim River.; (2) Heye Foundation / Museum of the American Indian. New York City. Accessioned in 1919. Cat. no. 9/3433.; (3) Julius Carlebach. New York City. Acquired October, 1944 from the Heye Foundation; (4) Isabel Waldberg. New York City. ca. 1944. Isabel Waldberg is a painter and wife of the late Patrick Waldberg who was an art historian and critic connected to the Surrealist group since 1932.; (5) Merton Simpson. New York City.; (6) Andre Nasser. New York City. Purchased 1982; (7) Eugene V. Thaw July 17, 1991.;
History Scholarly Attributions: [1] Chuna McIntyre - October 1997 meeting - "The rings around the mask are called 'ellanguq' -'ella' means 1) our conciousness or awareness; 2) air, 3) earth, 4) sky and 5) the universe. And 'nguq' means that which represents. Generally the full rings around the mask represents the mask peering through its own consciousness or awareness and is stationary. Mask with partial rings are moving or kinetic, forming a ripple in its own universe. There are lunar implications in the white coloured rings around the raven's eyes and the crescent which forms the mouth. Caribou symbolism is found in the antlers at the top of the mask and the ears at the side which double as the raven's wings. And the raven's eyes/nostrils double for the caribou's nostrils. A raven can be read twice in the mask - as the face of the raven and as the raven itself, such that, the caribou antlers at the top of the mask also refer to the raven's feet. In between the feet is the raven's tail. The ears of the caribou referes to the raven's wings.And the beak can be read as the raven's entire head with the beak's nostrils becoming the eyes." [2] Chuna McIntyre - 13 April 1998 - identified feathers as swan. [3] Letter from Peter Furst (State University of New York at Albany letterhead) 3/27/82 - "The raven mask, #9/3433, was originally purchased with the other masks from the same shaman's ceremony by Twitchell and sold to the Heye collection. It was then deaccessioned by Heye and sold to Carlebach in 1944, and subsequently resold by him. A number of these masks, as you know, were purchased by various members of the surrealist exile group in NY, which included Andre Breton, Max Ernest, etc. The name of the mask is Doologiak, and it represents the trickster-culture hero Raven, whom the Eskimos and the NW Coast Indians shared with various Siberian tribes, such as the Koryak. All the masks in the Twitchell group were danced in complementary pairs, one coming from one end of the dance house and the other from the other end. Some masks were suspended rather than worn, with the dancers appearing behind them. Must have been pretty dramatic, especially in the firelight and to the sound of the big flat drums." [4] Fienup-Riordan, Ann. THE LIVING TRADITION OF YUP'IK MASKS. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1996, pp.249-273. [p.250] George Byron Gordon, then director of Philadelphia's University Museum, met Twitchell in Bethel in 1907. . In a letter to Gordon date March 4, 1908, Twitchell wrote: . we have many masks that were made and used at the annual medicine dances and we have some of the stories that go with them. I attended one dance just to the masks and traditions, and I went to another and stayed a week unitl it finished. I have written twenty three pages describing it which I will send to you later." In his reply of May 28, 1908, Gordon wrote, "I was very glad to know that you have succeeded so well in gathering masks and in getting information about them." [p.257] "In 1908, the year Gordon acquired the masks from Twitchell, Heye was looking for a place to house his already enormous and still-growing collection of North American holdings. Gordon offered Hey storage space .. Between 1908 and 1916 both the museum's and Heye's collections, which were catalogued separately, rapidly gathered artifacts from groups both men believed were vanishing. . Perhaps after Gordon's initial purchase from Twitchell, Heye contacted Twitchell independently to purchase his own exemplary Yup'ik specimens, but no trace of correspondence remains. ... Fifty-five Twitchell masks officially entered the books of the Museum in 1919, numbered, like every other specimen, in Heye's own hand. Heye may have acquired some of these masks directly from Twitchell, either before Twitchell left Bethel in 1916 or after his move upriver. Heye moved his entire collection, as well as hundreds of specimens Gordon had collected, from Philadelphia to the new museum. Although Heye was careful to pay the natives from whom he collected artifacts, he was not above walking off with parts of collectionswith which he was associated, including those of both the American Museum of Natural History and the University Museum. The move left Gordon's systematically acquired collections in shambles. Gordon lost records as well as artifacts, including the twenty-three pages of stories Twitchell sent down with the masks in 1908 and Heye entered into his accession records along with the date and place of collection. Even these abbreviated "stories" add immeasurably to the masks' value. In 1919 Heye logged 233 pieces of Kuskokwim material into his personal collection, sixty-four of which were masks and related dance objects. .. Many of the masks appear to be the creations of one or two carvers working together under someone's direction to produce masks for a single ceremony. And many are in pairs and threesomes. Accession records report thirty-four paired masks from "near Bethel," twelve specifically from twenty miles below Bethel at Napaskiak. They were probably used at the dances Twitchell wrote to Gordon that he had witnessed -- among the last masked dances hosted along the Kuskokwim. Besides pairing, the collection is remarkable for the Yup'ik names Twitchell recorded for each mask. [p.263] "In 1944 Robert Lebel created one of the most remarkable legacies of this intense period of interaction between Yup'ik masks and their Surrealist admirers. ... Studying alongside Breton and the others, Lebel carefully documented his own masks as well as those of his friends. In a small, lined notebook Lebel rendered color drawings of fifty-six masks, forty from Museum of the American Indian collections. At the upper right corner of each page he wrote the initials or surname of the artist or poet who purchased the mask - R.L. for himself, A.B. for Andre Breton, I.W. for Isabel Walberg ..." [5] Letter from A. Fienup-Riordan - 3 September 1996 - "I'm sorry to say the Lebel notebook contains no information on the other masks in your collection (T233 and T651). ... I am 99.9% sure all the Twitchell masks were originally sold to Gordon and walked off with by Heye. Several other masks appear to have been collected by Gordon, as Gordon is noted as the collector in accession records. But I'm pretty sure Heye took more than he acknowledged, eg the Twitchell stuff. I wish I knew more ..." A collection date of 1908 seems likely (Fienup-Riordan 1996: 251).
Used Central Yup'ik Eskimo
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Last modified on: March 02, 2006