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Dzunukwa Mask

Artist Culture
Kwakwaka'wakw (Kwakiutl)
Wood with pigment, human hair, bear fur, seal skin, raffia, cloth, and metal nails
Associated with
Alert Bay, British Columbia, Canada, North and Central America
Sculpture, wood
Current Location
On View, Gallery 326
13 x 11 3/4 x 6 in. (33 x 29.8 x 15.2 cm)
Credit Line
Gift of Morton D. May
Public Domain
Object Number
Planes of the forehead, cheeks, and eyes converge at a vertical axis in the center of this carving. Graphite in the paint causes light to shimmer across the surfaces, contributing to an exaggerated sense of depth. This mask portrays "dzunukwa," a giant, bearded figure who dwells in the forest, kidnaps children, and eats them. With pursed lips, the mask appears ready to project the dzunukwa’s “wuu, wuu” call. The dzunukwa could bestow great wealth. Kwakwaka’wakw leaders wore finely carved and painted masks such as this, called gikamhl, when displaying or exchanging coppers during elaborate feasts. The dzunukwa mask and copper reinforced the associations of wealth and power that each object independently conveyed to its audience.
- 1967
Lucy Brown, Alert Bay, British Columbia, Canada, by inheritance [1]

1967 - 1982
Morton D. May, St. Louis, MO, USA, purchased from Lucy Brown, through agent James Economos [2]

1982 -
Saint Louis Art Museum, given by Morton D. May [3]

[1] An invoice dated June 23, 1967 notes payment to Lucy Brown at Alert Bay, BC. The invoice describes the mask as "one Tsonquo mask / Kwakiutl, ca. 1850", and notes "The mask has belong [sic] to our family for over [a] hundred years." A note on the accession record states "[The mask] was formerly the property of her grandfather, a Kwakiutl chieftain" [SLAM document files].

[2] See Note [1]. In an email dated July 26, 2008, James Economos writes: "I collected the Tsonoqua mask directly from Lucy Brown in Alert Bay in 1967 when I was acquiring objects for our upcoming Northwest Coast show at the May company, Los Angeles" [SLAM document files].

[3] A letter dated November 29, 1982 from Morton D. May to James D. Burke, director of the Saint Louis Art Museum, includes the offer of this object as part of a larger donation [Director's Office, Donor Files, Archives, Saint Louis Art Museum]. Minutes of the Acquisitions and Loans Committee of the Board of Trustees, Saint Louis Art Museum, December 17, 1982.
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