Handmade Hide and Fur Mask with Wooly Beard, Presumed Nunamiut, Alaskan

Regular price $185.00

This mask is one of the most extraordinary things I've had in my possession, for sure--a stunning, exquisitely crafted object that I find unbelievably beautiful and powerful. I have done a fair amount of research, which has led me to believe that it is Native Alaskan, most likely made by a Nunamiut mask maker from the Anaktuvuk Pass--though I am not 100% certain, and indeed, this and the two others I have are superior to any others I have seen. Beginning in the 1950s, the Anaktuvuk Nunamiut began making Caribou hide masks--embellished with the fur of caribou, wolves, fox, black and grizzly bears, etc--at first for dances but then specifically to sell, for which they became renowned. Reflecting the unique skills and styles of their individual makers, these were sculpted around wooden head-shaped molds made for the purpose.

This hide used for this one is un-dyed, excepting a dark red dye used on the eye lids, lips, and nose. There is a variety of fur used--white for the eye brows, brown for the mustache, and then what looks rather like sheeps wool for the beard. Below the top eye holes are a second pair of cutouts backed by hide pockets, which likely previously held painted glass "eyes" (chips of glass painted black and white.) Of the three I have, this one seems the oldest and also is the one that does not fit over the head and stay on by itself--I am not sure if the hide along the top of the mask has come apart a bit from how it was originally constructed, but one would now need to attach a strap in order to wear it.

I purchased this and two similar (but wonderfully different!) masks at the estate sale of a gallerist and incredible collector, who had an entire brownstone on Newbury Street in Boston.  Her gallery focused on the work of Haitian artists as well as Kuna Mola (fantastic cut and embroidered hand-made textiles made by the Kuna people of Panamá), but her collection showed her consummate curiosity and taste for unusual handmade objects from around the world.

This hide shows some age but is this mask is in very good clean condition. It could certainly be framed, but I would rather hate to see it trapped behind glass and would myself be inclined to hang it directly on the wall via pins in the corners, or else display it tabletop over any sort of roundish object. It measures about 10" top to bottom along the round edge and about 13" across (I folded it in half and measured 6 1/2" from nose to edge on each side.