Wooden transformation mask in the form of a raven with beak that opens to expose a female face inside with a crooked nose and labret. [CAK 24/08/2009]

Place details: N AMERICA. Canada / British Columbia Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands) NW Coast. Cultural Group: Northwest Coast, Haida: Local Name: Ni-klis-tlas (Raven); niijang ('mask', Skidegate), níijaangw (Kaigani) Materials: Wood Plant / Bird Feather / Pigment / Animal Fur Skin / Copper Alloy Metal / Animal Leather Skin / String / ?. Processes: Carved / Painted / Jointed / Nailed / Glued / Stitched / ?. Colour: Red, black, green. pigment with white feathers. Dimensions: H [with top figure standing upright and feathers hanging down beneath] = 630 mm Max W [beak open, approx] = 940 mm W [fixed back section including feathers] = 380 mm D [including featbers] = 760 mm Maker: Charles Edenshaw Field Collector: Charles Harrison When Collected: Between 1882 and 1890 ? Other Owners: Charles Harrison PRM Source: Charles Harrison Acquired: Purchased 2 March 1891 Other Numbers: 11 Related Collections: PRM Photo 1998.387.16

KEYWORD: Mask / Dance Accessory / Ceremonial Object / CLASS: Mask / Dance / Ritual and Ceremonial / Trade? / ?.

Object description: Wooden transformation mask in the form of a raven with beak that opens to expose a female face inside with a crooked nose and labret. The mask is edged with feathers and fur and there is a red human figure with blue face, jointed arms and pale hair that stands upright on the top of the mask. [CAK 24/08/2009]

Wood and feather mask depicting the raven as 'Creator' and 'the Wanderer'. The mask is articulated with strings, so that it can be closed up [to show the beaked raven] or open [to reveal a human face]. [JN 17/3/2003]

The wood used for the mask appears to be cedar after examination of the grain characteristics. The mask has been carved in different sections and then assembled round a thick square wooden backing plate. The two sides of the Raven's beak have been attached to the backing plate by the use of a thick leather hinge. The beak sections are attached to the leather with string and the leather to the backing plate with metal nails. Nails have also been used to attach the fur trim to the top of the beak sections and the bird skins to the sides and top of the backing plate. A more intricately carved wooden mask of a human face is nailed to the backing plate and is only revealed when the Ravens beak is opened. Strings are attached to the beak in two places and also to a figure fitted to the top of the backing plate with a metal hinge. The strings run through to the rear of the backing plate where they would be used to articulate the various moving sections of the mask. When not in use the strings are retained within a bracket of copper alloy and thick leather, which are attached to the backing plate with metal nails. Feathers thought to be from an immature male or female snowy owl due to the brown flecks in the otherwise white feathers (see Research Notes below). The type of fur is unknown. The colours used to paint the mask are black, red and jade green. [HR 3/10/2005]

Publications history, trails & websites: This object was selected for a Museum Top 10 application (mobile app) available on the Android and iOS store from 2013 to 2016. An image of the object was accompanied by the following text: Transformation Mask, Canada. Made by Charles Edenshaw, 1882–1890. Haida, Haida Gwaii (formerly Queen Charlotte Islands), British Columbia, Canada. Inv: 1891.49.8. Traditionally, the Haida believe in supernatural beings who can change their appearance to take on human or animal forms. This transformation was often acted out in dances or plays with the help of masks like this. The mask is not hollowed out at the back so may been hoisted on a pole rather than worn over the face. It can be opened and closed by a system of strings. When closed, the mask portrays Raven – a powerful figure in Haida culture – in its animal, ‘Creator’ form and when open (as shown), Raven is transformed into a human female – a noblewoman in fact, indicated by the labret (lip plug) she wears. This mask was made by Charles Edenshaw (1839–1924) of Masset, a tribal chief and one of the great masters of Haida art. He could recite hundreds of Raven stories from memory. Edenshaw made paintings, totem poles, argillite jewellery and engravings in silver and gold, but very few masks, so this item – carved from yellow cedar and decorated in snowy owl feathers – is very rare. The motifs were drawn freehand, not with stencils, and according to contemporary Haida artists who came to Oxford to study the mask, the slightly less perfect forms on the left half of the beak may have been the work of an apprentice, copying Edenshaw’s more symmetrical designs on the other side. [HA 07/01/2016]

Illustrated in black and white as figure 3.5 on page 100 of 'This is our life: Haida material heritage and changing museum practice' by Cara Krmpotich and Laura Peers,UBC Press 2013 with the caption 'Top, Raven Wandering transformation mask by Charles Edenshaw (PRM 1891.49.8); bottom, Raven Wandering transformation mask carved by Robert Davidson and danced by Ben Davidson at a feast in 2009. Bottom photograph by Nadine Wilson' with a paragraph above the images which reads '...Candice Weir These are the living pieces that we love and cherish, and are part of us: our drums, our paddles, our bent boxes, our musical instruments, our button blankets, our spruce-root hats, our cedar hats. It's all about who we are. It's strong for us. Getting the dimensions, the thicknesses, the lengths. Being able to see, feel, hold, and breathe all these pieces and to hopefully have them recreated, so we can use them. The Raven transformation mask by Charles Edenshaw was danced last month in Haida Gwaii - a replica of it (see Figure 3.5)'. [FB 07/01/2014]

Featured on the website http://projects.vanartgallery.bc.ca/edenshaw/transformation-mask-c-1882-1890/, and illustrated in colour with the caption 'Charles Edenshaw (attr.)Transformation Mask, c. 1882-1890 Wood, bird feathers, pigment, animal fur, leather, copper 63 x 94 x 76 cm Collection of Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford, 1891.49.8 Photo: Pitt Rivers Museum This mask was collected by Reverend Charles Harrison, the Anglican missionary in Massett in the 1880s. Harrison described this mask as representing Nang kilsdlaas, Raven the Creator, with his male slave depicted as a puppet-like figure above the forehead, that folds down when the mask is closed. The mask opens to reveal a female face.' [FB 03/12/2013]

This object features in the Museum's audio tour produced in 2010. Transcription as follows: “This type of mask is known as a ‘Transformation’ mask. It belonged to the Haida people of Haida Gwaii (formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands) in British Columbia, Canada. Traditionally, the Haida believe in supernatural beings who can change their appearance to take on human or animal forms. An example of this is Raven, who is represented in this mask. This transformation was often acted out in dances or plays with the help of masks like this. However, this one is not hollowed out at the back to be worn over the face so it may have been hoisted on a pole. It can be opened and closed by means of strings. When closed, the figure on top folds down and the large panels come together to represent Raven as a bird – you can just see the eyes and blue-painted beak on the outside of each panel. The lower and upper parts of the beak can also move up and down to make it ‘clap’. When opened up, as it is here, Raven is ‘transformed’ into human form. Raven is the most important character in Haida culture. Although often referred to as a ‘he’, Raven took on both male and female forms and was responsible for giving females distinctive genitalia. Here Raven is represented as female – we know this because of the large oval ornament worn through the lower lip of the face. This is known as a ‘labret’ and is a mark of a noblewoman. Raven is a powerful and mischievous creative force and features in many stories. He created Haida Gwaii. He put the sun and moon in the sky, fish in the seas, food on the land, and enabled man to gather the resources he needed to live. Raven is also one of the two main social groups in the Haida community, the other being Eagle – so all Haida members are either Raven or Eagle. The mask is carved from yellow cedar wood and decorated with fur and the feathers of a snowy owl. It was made in the 1880s by the master-carver and Haida chief Charles Edenshaw. At this time, British Columbia had joined the new Confederation of Canada and Christian missionaries had attempted to stamp out Haida customs such as totem poles, potlatch ceremonies, and even traditional names – Edenshaw’s chief name was Idansuu (eee-dan-soo). But when he was baptised in 1884 he was obliged to take an English name. Idansuu was anglicized to ‘Edenshaw’ and he chose ‘Charles’ after the Jacobite, Bonnie Prince Charlie, who had become a 19th century romantic hero. Edenshaw did two dimensional paintings, carved totem poles, argillite jewellery and made engravings in silver and gold, but he made very few masks, so that in itself makes this a very rare item.”


"This mask speaks of Edenshaw’s skills both as a storyteller and as an artist. He could recite several hundred Raven stories from memory and he was a master of the Haida aesthetic system – the strong formlines and the layout of motifs which were drawn freehand, not stencilled. In 2009, a group of Haida delegates came from Canada to the Museum to study the Museum’s collection of Haida material, and they considered that the mask should be regarded as a masterpiece. One of the delegates and Edenshaw’s descendant, Christian White, himself an artist, spoke a little more about the mask:

02.00-02.03: The artwork on it is pretty amazing [… ]

05.55-05.58: It was probably a commissioned piece, really. But…

06.03-06.41: …all of our work was really made for sale, right from the totem poles, boxes, were for trade… But he was one of the innovators, Charles Edenshaw, my great grandfather – he was one of the innovators in art and he really brought it to the highest level. It’s an amazing piece…

Charles Edenshaw’s uncle was Albert Edward Edenshaw, who Christian believes may have carved the large totem pole at the back of the Museum and who probably influenced Charles Edenshaw in his work:

06.57-07.10:His uncle was known for his story about the raven, the Raven Travelling, which he would recite at his potlaches...And so, that was probably where he was inspired to carve this piece from.

One of the huge advantages of having specialist Haida artists look at pieces like this mask is that the are able to see things in them that are not always apparent to Museum staff. For example Jaalen and Gwaai Edenshaw, Haida artists and brothers, looked closely at the painted artwork and came to the same conclusion as that of another famous Haida artist, Jim Hart, who saw the mask when it was exhibited in Vancouver; that is, that that somebody else had contributed to the painting. They deduced this because the motifs on the left side of the beak, as you look at it, are not as symmetrical, nor as evenly sized, and the formlines not as steady as in Edenshaw’s perfectly executed design on the right beak. The less polished effort could have been the work of an apprentice or the result of Edenshaw trying to save time by hiring someone else to finish off the mask." (Written by Helen Hales) References: Timed speech excerpts from DVD: Haida Handling Sessions, tape 3 (2009); Peter Macnair et al (2006) Raven Travelling, Plate 41 and general background to Haida art; Bill Holm, Northwest Coast Indian Art on the Haida aesthetic system and layout of motifs. Charles Edenshaw, the carver of this mask, was a master of this system; Hilary Stewart, Looking at Indian Art of the Northwest Coast, Vancouver: Douglas and Mcintyre (1979), p. 34 and chapters on figurative representations and meanings.; http://www.angelfire.com/realm/shades/nativeamericans/haidapeople.htm; Tape 3, Sep 2009, Project: ‘Haida Material Culture in British Museums: Generating New Forms of Knowledge’ [HH 26/10/2010]

Photographed in 2006 by Julian Calder for the exhibition 'Raven Travelling: 200 years of Haida art' at the Vancouver Art Gallery, but copyright of these images assigned and retained by Pitt Rivers Museum. Julian Calder supplied the Museum with copies of the colour transparency and digital image, now CD43, which are stored with the object transparencies with Collections Management). [ZM 24/04/2006]

Illustrated in colour as figure 41 on page 70 of Raven Travelling: Two Centuries of Haida Art, by Daina Augaitis et al. (Vancouver: Vancouver Art Gallery / Vancouver and Toronto: Douglas & McIntyre / Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2006). Caption (same page) reads: 'Charles Edenshaw / Raven Transformation Mask, undated / wood, paint, feather, spruce root, hide / 55.5 x 94 x 55.5 / Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford, no. 1891.49.8 / Photo: Julian Calder.' Also reproduced (same image, but detail only) on dustjacket. [JC 7 7 2006]

Drawings by Rudolf Weber reproduced as figure 20 on p. 145 of Contributions to the Ethnology of the Haida (Reports of the Jesup Expedition, Vol. V, part 1), by John R. Swanton (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1905). Information from June Bedford. [JC 16 4 1999] NB It is Swanton who identified the maker of this mask as Charles Edenshaw: 'Fig.20 represents a mask made by Charlie Edenshaw of Masset, and now in the Museum at Oxford, Eng. The outer figure is Raven as a bird; the inner, Raven in human form. The small figure which folds down when the mask is closed indicated that the possessor of this mask, chief Edenshaw, was the greatest chief on the Queen Charlotte Islands' (Swanton 1905 p. 145). [Laura Peers 30/8/2005, based on work by PRM intern Barbara Bartl 2003]

See 'Tylor's Tongue: Material Culture, Evidence, and Social Networks', by Alison Brown, Jeremy Coote, and Chris Gosden, in JASO: Journal of the Anthropological Society of Oxford, Vol. XXXI, no. 3 (Michaelmas 2000), pp. 257-72. [JC 20 12 2002]

Reproduced in black and white as figure 2 on page 5 of 'Haida Art in the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford, and the Rev. Charles Harrison', by June Bedford, in European Review of Native American Studies, Vol. XII, no. 2 (1998), pp. 1-10. Bedford also illustrates (same figure number) the drawings by Rudolf Weber reproduced by Swanton in 1905 (see below). Caption reads: 'The Ni-kils-tlas mask shut and open'. [JC 16 4 1999]

Discussed by Charles Harrison on p. 86 of his Ancient Warriors of the North Pacific (London: H.F. and G. Witherby, 1925): 'The Ni-kils-tlas was the most important, inasmuch as it represented that important creature the Raven, the mythological beliefs regarding which have already been described. The mask depicted the raven’s head with an Indian standing on top and a human face in miniature in the centre of the forehead. The symbolism it was intended to convey being the raven as the creator or perhaps the original ancestor of man and the raven’s male slave.’ [NM 25 2 1997]

Illustrated (open and side view) in colour on page 132 of The Pitt Rivers Museum: A World Within, by Michael O’Hanlon (London: Scala, 2014). Caption (page 133) reads: '100 (opposite) Raven transformation mask (beak open and closed). Made by Charles Edenshaw, Haida people, British Columbia, Canada Height 630 mm Purchased from Reverend C. Harrison 1891.49.8' [MJD (Verve) 19/2/2016]

Illustrated in colour as Figure 4 on pages 12-13 of Charles Edenshaw, by Robin K. Wright et al. (London: Black Dog Publishing, 2013). Caption (same page): 'Charles Edenshaw (attr.) | Transformation Mask, c. 1882-1890 | wood, bird feathers, pigment, animal fur, leather, copper | 63 x 94 x 76 cm | Collection of Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford, 1891.49.8 | This mask was collected by Reverend Charles Harrison, the Anglican missionary in Massett in the 1880s. Harrison described this mask as representing Nang kilsdlaas, Raven the Creator, with his male slave depicted as a puppet-like figure above the forehead, that folds down when the mask is closed. The mask opens to reveal a female face.' [JC 11 8 2016]

Illustrated in colour as Figure 170 on page 244 of Fetish Modernity, eds. Anne-Marie Bouttiaux, Anna Seiderer and Noemi del Vecchio, a catalogue for the exhibition of the same name and held at Tervuren from April- September 2011. The caption reads: ''Raven Transformation' mask by Charles Edenshaw. HAIDA, Haida Gwaii, British Columbia, Canada. Around 1880. PITT RIVERS MUSEUM OXFORD.' [MOBB 13/11/2018]

Research notes: On a research visit from Haida intern Lisa Hageman (YVR Foundations Masterpiece research fellowship) on the 25 January Lisa observed that the central female face has been mounted on hide with a flange which extends from either side. The central face and each half of the beak are stitched together with ?cotton threads, possibly thigh spun, at the the flange. This acts as a hinge to articulate the beak. [FB 25/1/2018]

This mask is discussed in the Tylor papers PRM ms collections Box 11a Boas 18:

'American Museum of Natural History ... New York June 2, 1902 Department of Anthropology

Dr E.B. Tylor, Oxford, England

My dear Sir,--

You will remember that a number of years ago you sent me a photograph of a Haida mask consisting of a human face inside of two large folding wings, which, when closed, represent a raven. [See Boas 14, which includes his initial response to the photograph with speculations about the representations] On top of the inner mask is a small figure of a man with movable hands. You asked me at that time to ascertain the significance of the mask. It has taken me all these years to obtain the information that you desire. As I have explained several times in print, it is necessary, in order to obtain the significance of a mask, to find either the maker or the owner. During the last year I have had an investigator, Dr John R. Swanton, on Queen Charlotte Islands, who spent there a whole year; and through him I have just now learned that this mask was made by Charlie Edensaw. [sic] It represents Nenkilstlas, the mythical Raven,--outside in the form of the raven, inside in human form. The small figure on the top of the mask also represents Nenkilstlas. Edensaw said that when the different strings are pulled, this figure begins to shake its hand, which means that the person who wears the mask is higher in rank than all the tribes that were invited. This is all that Dr Swanton could learn about the mask, which, according to the statement of Edensaw, is evidently a potlatch mask.

Dr Swanton has been eminently successful in his work on Queen Charlotte Islands, and I am sure you will be very much interested in his results, which we hope to publish in the course of this year.

With kindest regards, Yours very sincerely

Franz Boas.' [AP 14/01/2013]

Note found in Beatrice Blackwood's lecture notes for Northwest Coast lectures, PRM Mss Collections: 'Haida double mask. P.R. Made by Charlie Edenshaw of Masset. The outer figure is Raven as a bird; the inner, Raven in human form. The small figure on top which folds down when the mask is closed, indicated that the possessor of this mask, Chief Edenshaw, was the greatest chief on the Queen Charlotte Islands.' Written on side of note is: Swanton. JNPE V p. 145. [LLP 20/8/2003]

Jim Hart, Haida master carver, made a version of this mask from a line drawing in Swanton. Hart's mask is in the collections of the Museum of Anthropology at UBC; it differs in several details from this version because he had not seen the Edenshaw version when he made his. Personal communication, Jim Hart to Laura Peers, November 2004.

Information from Bill Holm, email to Laura Peers, 2 September 2005: 'The great Edenshaw Raven Transformation mask I believe was probably made for sale and not for use. The fact that it is mounted on a board and really could not fit for use suggests that to me. Edenshaw made very few masks, at least I am unaware of more than a couple. '

Personal communication Professor Christopher Perrins [University of Oxford, Department of Zoology] to Laura Peers, September 2005. "Have done a quick check and am sure that the feet belong to Snowy Owl. Since the light coloured feathers are also, I think it is a fair bet that the all-white ones are too." Although this refers to the feathers found on mask 1891.49.7, Professor Perrins also looked at this mask and decided the feathers were also from a snowy owl but either a female or immature male due to the brown markings through the white feathers. [HR 30/9/2005]

The date of death for Charles Edenshaw was previously recorded as 1924, but according to Peter McNair this is now known to be 1920. [HR 5/7/2006]

The following information comes from Haida delegates who worked with the museum’s collection in September 2009 as part of the project “Haida Material Culture in British Museums: Generating New Forms of Knowledge”:

This mask was viewed alongside other masks on Thursday Sept 10, 2009. Gwaai Edenshaw considered this to be a masterpiece, an opinion that found support among all the delegates. Gwaai characterised the face inside the mask as being deeply carved, while the designs on the inside of the beak were referred to as a prime example of flat design. He described the painting as innovative. Christian White observed that the artwork was superb. Nika Collison noted that there are not many transforming masks around today that are Haida and that this is a particularly fine example. Jason Alsop offered that this mask is a great example of a transformation mask because it maintained both formline and a story. Compared to mask 1891.49.9, this mask shows a much higher level of artistic achievement and practice. He observed that from whatever angle the mask is viewed from, there is something to notice.

The materials were identified as yellow cedar, alder wood and snowy owl feathers. Christian White clarified that the back of the mask has two layers, one of which is alder. Christian noted that snowy owls are rare on Haida Gwaii, appearing about once every six years.

Some delegates offered that this mask was never meant to be worn because it is not hollow on the back. Christian White believed it was definitely a commissioned piece. Nika Collison responded with her opinion that the mask was danced and not made for sale. She believed it would not be as finely finished, nor as elaborate if made for sale alone. Christian White clarified that by ‘commissioned’ he was referring to the historic practice amongst Haidas to commission masks, poles, and other regalia. It was proposed that the metal staple on the back could have been used to mount the mask on a post; the dancer would be cloaked in a blanket. Gwaai Edenshaw wondered if it was sold or purchased before it was danced.

After looking at the mast for a long time, Gwaai Edenshaw supported the attribution of the mask to Charles Edenshaw. Charles Edenshaw is Christian’s great-grandfather, and Christian referred to him as an innovator in art. Charles was a Stastas eagle, whose uncle (Albert Edward Edenshaw) was well known for telling stories of Raven Travelling at potlatches.

Jaalen Edenshaw and Gwaai Edenshaw believed it possible that someone else had contributed to the painting as one half of the beak was not as polished as the other side. The side with more errors could be the work of an apprentice learning from Charles Edenshaw, or an attempt by Charles Edenshaw to save time (i.e. by hiring someone else to finish the piece).

The figure on the top of the mask signified the greatest chief according to Diane Brown and Christian White. [Cara Krmpotich note: could this be a reference to Albert Edward Edenshaw who deemed himself the greatest of Haida chiefs?]. Gaahlaay, Lonnie Young, identified the man on top as a traveller who wanted a ride. Nika Collison believed artist Jim Hart, who made his own mask based on a line-drawing of this one, connected this figure to a story from Raven Travelling that features a blind halibut fisherman.

The beak of the raven is made from four parts which allows it to both open and to ‘clap’ (i.e. the bottom of the beak can clack against the top of the beak). Jaalen and Gwaai Edenshaw requested a photograph showing this.

A lengthy discussion of this mask can be viewed on Tape 3, time 0:01 to approximately 14:00. There is a short segment on Tape 2, time 38:10 to 38:41, where delegates express a desire to compare this mask with a bentbox before of similarities in design elements and iconography. Both tapes can be found in the Haida Project Related Documents File. [CAK 08/04/2010]

Robert Davidson, Haida artist and carver, examined this mask on 7 April 2011. The following comments were recorded: The mask is composed of three masks: the outer mask (Raven), the inner mask (hawk woman) and the inside of the beak. The design shows the signature elements of Charles Edenshaw such as the stacked U shapes (double is more common for Charles but this mask has three stacked U shapes). The shape of the ovoids is also reminiscent of Charles Edenshaw. It was suggested that this piece was created near the end of his life and that his hand may not have been as steady. Robert believed that the entire mask was painted by Charles Edenshaw. A time period of late 1800s to early 1900s was suggested. Robert’s grandmother Florence Davidson, daughter of Charles Edenshaw had many bracelets carved by her father. Through careful study of these ornaments Robert has been able to identify Charles Edenshaw’s unique carving style. The central face is a hawk woman – the hooked nose and nostril shows it is a hawk and the labret in the lip shows it is a woman. Very few masks and no transformation masks were around on Haida Gwaii while Robert was growing up. Robert suggested the wood for the beak is red cedar as it is light and the inner mask may be made of yellow cedar or aldar. The hawk is a sub crest of the Raven clan. [MJD 17/05/2011]

A mask inspired by this mask was made by master carver James Hart and resides at the Museum of Anthropology, UBC. [LPeers, 28/4/2017]

In 2005 anthropologist Cara Krmpotich, who was conducting research for Laura Peers and the Pitt Rivers Museum, interviewed Haida Elder Mary Swanson, who noted there is a story of a raven transforming into a dogfish and then into a woman. [ZM 9/1/2018]