Traditionally masks were and are created in many varied sizes and configurations and their functions could be complicated. An example of one of the largest is a fourteen foot long cannibal bird mask from the Vancouver Island village of Nitinat used in the Hamatsa ritual—operated by two men, one of which handled the head and the other had a position out at the end of the beak where he could open and close it. In contrast to a mask of this size are the small finger puppets used by Tlingit shamans measuring but two inches.
Of all the items carved by contemporary artists of Northwest Coast Native style art masks are probably the most popular with clients, who commission or purchase them as wall hangings. As a result, many artists today consider masks as something to hang on a wall, which can result in them lacking the feel of their purpose in the longhouse.
I live with my wife on five wooded acres surrounded by Suquamish Reservation timber-land, which has two large wetlands (feeders for a salmon stream). We are but a short drive to the shore of Puget Sound and Hood Canal, therefore much of my inspiration for masks comes from this natural world around me. If a client feels an affinity for a particular creature I will try to comply with his, or her tastes and enjoy the challenge. Native literature is filled with creative ideas as well.
Three stages: Closed, open and more open. Width open: 3 1/2 ft. Red Cedar, shredded cedar bark, acrylic paint.