Scott Jensen: Facing the Coast - An Exhibit of Masks Catalog

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presented by stonington gallery


t is our great honor and joy to present Scott Jensen’s solo exhibition Facing the Coast. This show is the result of a year and a half in the studio and a lifetime of study, thought, experience and deep love for the arts and culture of the Pacific Northwest Coast. Jensen’s art is a reminder, in the most profound and beautiful way, of the complex nature of art on the Coast. Artisans have lived on these shores through the ages, drawn upon their magic, and have given the world one of its most important art traditions. The stirring works in this exhibit show Jensen’s desire to understand the full spectrum of stories, myths and the characters that populate magnificent and ancient tales, and help bring a rich and complex past to us in our time. Enjoy. Rebecca Blanchard Co-Director, Stonington Gallery


o learn more about each mask in this exhibit, turn to the back of the catalogue for notes, stories and personal anecdotes.

Stonington Gallery Located in Historic Pioneer Square 125 South Jackson Street Seattle, WA 98104 All Work & Text by Scott Jensen Photography by Alec Miller Catalogue Design by Sarra Scherb © 2014 Stonington Gallery Cover image: Gunakadeit | Information on pg 22

206.405.4040 / Open Daily For commissions with the artist, please contact the gallery.

Flight of the Shaman, Spirit Under the Glacier 9”h x 9”w x 7”d

The Forest

16”h x 11”w 5”d

About Facing the Coast:


s I turned my attention to looking at and researching old Tlingit masks for this show, I saw an incredibly rich and varied group of subjects depicted. After more than forty years of work and study I know that the palette of characters being carved today is much more narrow than in the past. Along with the more commonly carved subject matter I have included some unusual masks. Some of the things depicted in old Tlingit shaman masks are: land otters, devilfish, sandhill cranes and geese, oyster catchers, mountain goats, dogs, mice, mosquitoes, owls, woodworms, golden eagles, killer whales, ravens, and mountains. Also included are celestial objects and natural phenomena: sun, moon, sun dogs, the big dipper and many more natural and supernatural objects and places. Tlingit masks in general--and more specifically, shaman masks--were smaller than masks from other areas on the Northwest Coast. Few, if any, of the old Tlingit shaman masks were articulated. A few had copper ornamentation or brass tacks and many had hair, fur, bone and shell added. As scholar George Emmons described in The Tlingit Indians, the old Tlingit masks “exemplified perfection of Tlingit art in carving. The realism of features in their expression of feeling, the elaboration of ornamentation, and the technical excellence of workmanship and finish gave it a superiority over all other masks of the Northwest Coast. In the shaman’s mask the Tlingit excels in originality, truthfulness, and elegance of carving.” Living close to the land has always been the most important connection in maintaining the inspiration that keeps me focused and moving in the direction I am interested in pursuing. If one takes the time to sit quietly and observe the natural world, putting aside the artificial environment of the modern world, the mind opens to search places one would otherwise never go. To create the pieces I want, I need to try to go to a place and a time that does not exist any more, with the exception of the natural world and the culture as it exists today. I need to understand the animals and their habits that I am representing in my carving, and I need to stay in touch with the spirit of the land in the Pacific Northwest. With this group of masks I wish to illustrate the remarkable ability to capture realism within the abstract with this refined and expressive art form created by the Native people of the Northwest Coast. Most of the information I used about shamanism is from G. T. Emmons’ book, The Tlingit Indians or from Tangible Visions by Allen Wardwell. The other book that helped to inspire this body of work is Tlingit Myths and Texts by John R. Swanton. -Scott Jensen, 2014

About the Artist:


cott Jensen (Non-Indigenous) is a self-taught carver who began carving in 1972 and expanded into teaching carving in 1974 when he was asked to teach in Craig, Alaska. He has continued his commitment to teaching at Olympic Park Institute, Northwest Indian College, North Cascades Institute, and Xá:ytem Longhouse Interpretive Center in British Columbia. He also mentors young carvers and holds classes once a year at his Bellingham, Washington studio. His work is represented in museums in Japan, Germany, and the U.S., as well as many private collections. Jensen spent 12 years traveling and instructing aboard the M/V Snow Goose, Yorktown Clipper, and Island Roamer in Southeast Alaska and British Columbia. In 2012, he was asked by Lummi artist Joe Hillaire’s daughter, Pauline, to be part of a restoration team to work on Joe’s Centennial Totem Pole that has been a landmark in Bellingham since 1952. The accompanying book and CD “A Totem Pole History: The work of Joe Hillaire” by Pauline Hillaire and edited by Gregory Fields, documents her father’s life as an artist and the restoration project. In 2010, Jensen was adopted by Fred Sałka Fulmer into the Chookaneidí Tlingit Eagle/Brown Bear Clan and given the name Kadach´aakú, meaning ‘carver’.

Eagles & Ravens Return to Glacier Bay 11”h x 10”w x 6”d

Halibut Woman

12”h x 8”w x 5”d

Octopus & Sculpin Spirits 12”h x 8”w x 3”d

Blue Rockfish

13.38”h x 8.5”w x 4”d Alder, Pigments, Abalone

Title dimensions Blue Rockfish Spirit Alder, Pigments, Faux Branches 14”h x 9”w x 4”d

Brown Bear

12”h x 8”w x 4”d


9”h x 8”w x 3”d

Sandhill Crane

7”h x 14”w x 16”l

Portrait Mask with Chilkat Face Paint 9”h x 7”w x 3”d

Portrait Mask

9”h x 8”w x 3”d

Crooked Beak

22”h x 12”w x 27”l

Sea Grizzly

14”h x 8”w x 12”d


16”h x 8”w x 7”d

Right: Wounded Warrior 6”h x 5”w x 3”d

Far Right: Raven in Human Form 8”h x 6”w x 3”d

Right: Xōots (Brown Bear) 5”h x 4”w x 3”d

Far Right: Transformation 5”h x 4”w x 3”d

Left: Gunakadeit: Wearing the Monster’s Skin

7”h x 5”w x 3”d

About the Works:

Cover Page & Page 20: Gunakadeit: Wearing The Monster’s Skin Alder, Pigments

This small mask represents a man wearing the skin of the Gunakadeit, a monster that lived in a lake not far from his home. He trapped, killed and skinned the monster and by wearing the skin acquired its powers. The small face at the top is the man looking out from between the monster’s eyes. His hands protrude from under the monster’s teeth and his legs and feet can be seen coming out from the monster’s head at the sides of the mask. The large face represents the man with the Gunakadeit skin draped over him. For the complete story see Tlingit Myths and Texts by John R. Swanton. #33, page 166.

Page 3 & Back Cover: Flight of the Shaman, Spirit Under the Glacier Alder, Pigments, Fur, Bone

It is a common belief in shamanic tradition that some shamans had the power of flight. When entering a trance the shaman would call on his spirit helpers to assist him. He didn’t have control over which one of his spirits would come first or in what order they would come. Once the spirit came to the shaman he was taken over by it. He would make the same gestures and speak or sing in the language of that spirit. His body would contort and move in unnatural ways before collapsing on the floor in a trance, during which the shaman’s spirit could leave the body and by means of flight visit other places. In this mask, the shaman is illustrated in flight in a somewhat contorted position. His spirit helper, “the spirit under the glacier,” is shown with a human-like face.

Stories, References & Notes by Scott Jensen

Flight of the Shaman (con’t): It is wearing a headband of fur and the bone nose decoration of a shaman.

Its face is painted with white circles representing ice, hail and snow. The blue swirls on the cheek are the turbulent water at the base of a glacier when ice breaks off. The wisp of white hair emerging from the mouth indicates the visible breath in cold weather.

Page 4 & 22: The Forest - Alder, Pigments, Branches

I spend a lot of time hiking in the woods near my home and have had the good fortune to travel extensively in British Columbia, Canada and Southeast Alaska as well. For me, as for anyone who has spent time in the woods, the forest is a strong and mysterious place. It can be beautiful and inviting and also spiritual. At times it can be dark and scary. For the animals it is mostly an environment of comfort and protection. This mask tries to embody all of these thoughts and feelings. The face is the forest—strong, ancient, spiritual, inviting and a little dark. There are brown bears at the top with the protective forest surrounding them. The spirit bears on the cheeks and the bear emerging from the forest/mouth/den are two sides of the forest: one, the natural world; and two, the spirit world.

Page 6: Eagles & Ravens Return to Glacier Bay - Alder, Pigments

I learned that there was a new plank house being built by the Hoonah Indian Association. It is being built in Glacier Bay National Park. It will be the first plank house built in their ancestral homeland since the village was destroyed by an advancing glacier over 250 years ago. Some of the carvers working on the project are Gordon Greenwald, Owen James, Herb Sheakley and Louie White, Jr. This is a big deal, a great thing that is happening. I wanted to acknowledge it with this mask. The face represents Glacier Bay and the face painting is of a bird’s head and wing, but it has no discernible beak. I intentionally left it off because the bird is both eagle and raven at the same time.

Page 7: Halibut Woman - Alder, Pigments

This mask is a personification of a very powerful natural creature, one that you often risked your life to catch. The mask is inspired by the story of “The Halibut People” in Tlingit Myths and Texts. My aim was to combine the characteristics of the halibut and a human woman. One of the identifying symbols for a woman in Northwest Coast art is the labret. In this mask, the human-like face is surrounded by the form of a halibut. The halibut’s tail protrudes from the her mouth and has a small spirit face contained in the tail to suggest her labret.

Page 8: Octopus and Sculpin Spirits - Alder, Pigments, Fur, Beads

Shaman masks represented a very large range of things, both natural and supernatural. Shamans and their spirit helpers (yeik) were often shown in the same mask. That is the case with this mask. The shaman is represented with open mouth, as if singing during a performance. The two spirit helpers evoked here are the octopus--depicted by the tentacle surrounding the shaman’s face--and the sculpin. The two black areas rising from either side of the mouth represent the spines on a sculpin’s gill plates. Most shamans had four spirit helpers acquired during seclusion, fasting, and prayer. Some had as many as eight, and all were represented in the shaman’s kit as carved wooden masks. The most powerful of these masks do not have eye holes cut or burned through them. There were larger masks that could cover the face as well as small maskettes (5” or 6” high) that were attached to a headband of eagle feathers and swan’s down. The octopus, like the land otter (kushtaka) are associated most often with shamanism.

Page 9 & 24-25: Blue Rockfish Spirit - Alder, Pigments, Abalone

Although I have seen carvings representing the sculpin, I have not seen any carvings identified as rockfish. I have always been intrigued with the combination of armor and weapon that is part of their natural form. They have a heavily armored mouth and a protruding lower lip. The gill plates are very hard and have three spikes on them. The dorsal fin has twelve long curved spines that stand up when the fish feels threatened and their bite can cause a bad infection. They eat crustaceans and other fish, which they swallow whole. It is not uncommon to catch a rockfish with another whole fish in its stomach. The blue rockfish is common along the entire North Pacific coast. It is these attributes that made me think that it would be a strong spirit helper to have. The shaman did not choose the spirits that he called upon for help in his work. They came to the shaman during initiation and stayed with the shaman until death. This mask is an anthropomorphized rockfish. It was a common practice to portray spirit helpers in a human/ animal combination. At the lower corners of the mask are the pelvic fins. The mouth shows the hard, protective down-turned plate and the protruding lower lip. The pectoral fins are fanned out covering the cheeks. I gave this mask the round eyes of a fish and the black stripe face paint that corresponds to the natural dark stripes on the real fish. The large spiky dorsal fin is split and shown on either side of the face as exaggerated eyebrows. All rockfish have a smaller softer secondary dorsal immediately behind the larger one. I added this to the forehead and gave it a ripple to indicate the softer nature of this fin. In the real fish, the tail would be oriented the other way, in line with the fish’s body. To make it more like a headdress decoration, I turned it so it is seen fanned out when viewed from the front.

Page 10: Brown Bear - Alder, Pigments, Abalone, Opercula

One of the most well-known stories on the coast is that of Bear Mother. It’s a story of a young woman kidnapped by bears. She is eventually rescued by her brother and returns home safely, but not before giving birth to twins who are half human, half bear.

Brown Bear (cont.): The brown bear is one of a few animals that is used as a crest animal as well as a shamanic

symbol. In fact, the brown bear is the crest animal most often used by shamans. Brown bears were thought to have much in common with people and could understand human language. This bear mask is done in the typical style showing the twins in the ears of the larger bear figure. The nostrils are inlayed with the vent holes cut from an abalone shell. The mouth is full of red turban snail operculum commonly used for teeth in masks. The red turban snail is found in great abundance in certain areas of the Pacific coast. The opercula were collected by the indigenous people and used for inlay in many items. Abalone was found in the waters of British Columbia and Alaska, but much of what was used was traded up the coast from what is now Baja California. The southern abalone was prized for its bright iridescent greens and blues that flashed in the light. The front of the abalone shell, or what was the inside of the shell, was almost never worked or flattened in the old days. Probably because it lessens the iridescent qualities significantly.

Page 11: Marmot - Alder, Pigments, Brass Tacks

This maskette is of a marmot peering from its hole in the ground. In ancient times, a marmot is said to have accompanied a group of people on their migration from the Alaskan interior towards the coast and was taken as a crest by them. The brass tack decoration around the marmot’s head represents the lichen on the rocks near its den.

Pages 12 & 13: Sandhill Crane - Alder, Feathers, Fur, Pigments

The Tlingit word for these large and impressive birds is dóol. Sandhill cranes have a more than 6-foot wide wing span and are 3 to 4 feet tall. They migrate from the southern United States to Canada, Alaska and Siberia via two different flyways. One of these groups of sandhill cranes uses the Pacific flyway that takes most of them to Alaska on their way to nest in Bristol Bay, the Alaska Peninsula, Kodiak Island and Cook Inlet. A small number of this group of cranes nests in the muskegs of Southeast Alaska. They can also be seen at the Copper River Delta, Yakutat, Glacier Bay and the Stikine River resting on the long migration. During the mating season these cranes perform a spectacular dance together.

Page 14, 15, 26: Portrait Masks - Alder, Pigments When I decided to make a portrait mask I researched many old Tlingit portrait masks in my books, on the Bill Holm/ Robin Wright video disc, as well as in many of the world’s museums via their websites. After looking at so many examples of this type of mask, some overall character traits in them became apparent. They all had a sense of realism in the human quality of the way the face was carved. I kept thinking, “realism within the abstract.” Many of them had some face paint and most were smaller in size compared to masks that represented other kinds of things. At first, these portrait masks can seem a bit plain. But after looking at a group of them and thinking about it, you realize that each one was made to depict a real person and that that person did something important enough to warrant a mask to be created of them. It would have been displayed at important events to recall the deed and show kinship to that person.

Pages 16-17: Crooked Beak - Red & Yellow Cedar, Cedar Bark Rope, Brass Tacks, Feathers There are many masks associated with the Kwakwaka’wakw people. Of those, the Crooked Beak of Heaven mask is one of the most well known. The University of British Columbia Anthropology Museum has an extensive collection of these masks. This collection has crooked beak masks made between 1850 -1967 and shows how the masks have changed in detail over time. It also shows the different styles individual carvers like Willie Seaweed, Mungo Martin, George Walkus and others have brought to this iconic image. In this smaller rendition of the mask I have changed the nostrils from the usual ovoid shape to “u” forms and moved them back on the mask to accentuate the beak. I also thrust the beak forward rather than up before curving it back to touch the upper lip.

In the mid-1970s I was in Vancouver, B.C. with some friends, and we met a couple from Alert Bay. They invited us to attend a potlatch their uncle was giving. By the next evening we were in Alert Bay where we spent a week and attended a series of potlatches. That was the first time I saw masks used in the context they were intended. The Hamatsa dance associated with the Crooked Beak mask was performed by several families during the week. It is a very powerful experience and left a lasting impression.

Page 18: Sea Grizzly - Alder, Pigments, Horse Hair

The sea grizzly or sea bear is an image I have seen represented in carvings and in Chilkat weavings. I have seen this figure in Haida art as well as Tlingit. The idea of creating an image that represents the most powerful land animal in North America and rendering it so it inhabits the under sea world is an irresistible draw for me. This mask shows the short snout and small laid back ears of the bear. It has a mouth full of teeth and a slightly protruding tongue like both a bear and a killer whale. Its eyes are somewhat round and bulging like a fish and it has a tall dorsal fin with water streaming off the trailing edge. I gave it somewhat of a pleasant demeanor. But, like a grizzly bear that can look quite cute, even cuddly—until it is charging you—the character in this mask might be deceiving.

Page 19: Dragonfly - Alder, Pigments

The dragonfly is thought to transport human souls for the shaman, and is also a symbol of transformation. The configuration of this mask is typical of the way the dragonfly is represented in Northwest Coast art. It shows the large eyes, double wings, segmented body and a small human-like face between the eyes. The one atypical addition here is the clasper at the end of the segmented body, which is used during mating.

Page 21: Wounded Warrior - Alder, Pigments, Opercula

The spirit of a warrior is a powerful thing. This image was used in masks, shaman maskettes and war helmets.

Page 21: Raven in Human Form - Alder, Pigments

Raven would, from time to time as it benefited him, change into human form to influence events in his favor, often with mixed results.

Page 21: Xōots (Brown Bear) - Alder, Pigments

Small mask for a shaman’s headdress. The brown bear is one of the most common spirit helpers of a Tlingit shaman. It is also an important crest animal for several clans.

Page 21, 27: Transformation - Raw Alder, Carved Alder, Pigments

A play on the theme of transformation in Northwest Coast art, this mask is also a reminder that we often look at art-myself included--and see just the finished piece. With skill and inspiration, artists can transform the most mundane materials into something wonderful.

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