Object photography

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Object description

  • Yup'ik artist
  • Masks, late 19th century
  • Wood, pigment
  • Cape Vancouver, Alaska, United States
  • H: 6 1/4 in, W: 5 7/8 in, D: 1 3/4 in (H: 15.9 cm, W: 14.9 cm)
  • Gift of Israel Albert Lee, 1910
  • E13081
  • Used during winter dance ceremonies
  • Stories told through masks

Yup'ik masked dances took place during the long Alaskan winter. Songs and stories accompanying the dances underscored continuity between animal, human, and spirit worlds. On these masks the downturned mouth may identify a female character. These masks would have had a top fringe of feathers or caribou hair.


This is a pair of round, carved wooden dance masks, both of which represent the spirit of seals. The mask (PEM cat. no. E13081) has a round face with an outer circular border painted a bluish gray color. There is a thin red painted border around the face. The face is centered, and has two round holes for eyes, a carved nose, and a downturned mouth with teeth carved out. The down-turned mouth and chin tattooing identify a female image. The mask (PEM cat. no. E13082) is also round with a rim around the outside and a round face in the center. The rim is painted blue on the outside and thick red on the inside. The down-turned mouth is carved shallow with no teeth. There are down-turned heavy eyebrows, and two round holes for eyes and two smaller nostrils cut through to the back side of the mask. There are some empty holes along the exterior rim each mask - a fringe of feathers or caribou hair would have adorned this rim.

Exhibition History

  • Intersections, Native American Art in a New Light, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA.; June 24, 2006 through November 27, 2011
  • Power and Beauty: A New Native American Art Gallery at the Peabody Essex Museum, Peabody Essex Museum; 2003 through 2005