M.A. Theses: Lisa Seip, 2000

Early Nuxalk Masks

In the beginning the purpose of this thesis was to examine Nuxalk masks from the Bella Coola Valley and associated saltwater areas. Through the process of locating collections and examining what is known about Nuxalk masks it became clear that there is a vast, widely scattered, largely unknown and unpublished body of masks and associated information, such as stories and other cultural meanings, in museums throughout Europe and North America.

The goal of this thesis became reassembling this body of information. The methodology used to achieve this goal involved repeated consultations in Bella Coola with Nuxalk artists, and on-site research at major North American museums. The result of this work is the construction of a typology based upon mask characteristics, colour symbolism, iconography and ritual function.

This study provides the first modern look at the full corpus of Nuxalk mask art. Masks of "museum quality" masks are seen as only a part of the full spectrum of masks carved for use by the Nuxalk in terms of their function. As a result of this research a number of stories, once an integral part of the cultural meaning of certain masks, were discovered. As this study re-associates masks and stories it provides a cultural context not just for scholarly study, but for today's artists, dancers and for the families within which these things are passed down.