Beau Dick: Masks to See & Then to Burn

NOTE:  Beau Dick passed away in 2017.  Please see that post here.

Beau Dick, a Kwakwaka’wakw carver, based in Alert Bay, B.C., is on exhibition at Macaulay & Co. Fine Art in Vancouver in an unusual arrangement that speaks to the significance of the works. (Above: From Lattimer Gallery, Mourning Mask, an example of the exceptional range of this Pacific Northwest Coast artist’s work).

Some of the masks – the 40 Atlakim (forest spirit) masks in the show – are for ceremonial use, worn in a dancing series for 4 years only, then burned. “This grouping is nearing the end of its cycle,” the gallery says, “and midway through the exhibition the masks will be taken to Alert Bay to be danced one final time at a Potlatch, and then destroyed.”  (Above: Beau Dick with a mask from the exhibition. Image: Vancouver Sun) The rest of the masks in this post are works from other galleries.

Otter Man, from Just Art gallery

Alder Mask, Lattimer Gallery

Tsonokwa Mask, Spirits of the West Coast Gallery

Eagle Mask, The Legacy Ltd.

Moo Gums (Four and Face) Mask, Douglas Reynolds Gallery, Vancouver.

Profile on the late Beau Dick at Fazakas Gallery, here.

10 replies »

  1. I’ve always been fascinated by the ritual of destroying one’s art: these glorious masks, Tibetan sand paintings, musicians smashing their guitars…is it connected to the deep spiral of life-into-death-into new creations, do you think? Or a recognition of mortality? The need for detachment from one’s creation? It’s intriguing.


    • Brilliant observations, especially the guitars. I do know this mask making and destruction is indeed part of the life and spirituality cycle of this family, over generations. Once the masks are worn for four dances, they’re believed to have completed their ceremonial lives. Your broader query about the destructive elements of artistic creation is fascinating, and worth a good ponder. Thank you. Love this.


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