Artifact: The loose thread of Art

Giyema Otter mask (Alaska State Library collection 11-C-177)
– Who created it: Billy Williams (Deg Xinag Athabascan)
– Where the object is from: Interior Alaska
– When the object is from: 1971
– What drew you to this object: Stood out from the other Athabasca objects; it was different


– What else would you like to know about this object or its maker?:
This object was very different from the other items in the Athabascan collection at the Alaska State Museum in Juneau. Looking into the background a little more revealed that this mask had influences from the neighboring northern Yup’ik group. Historically the Yup’ik have a rich mask making tradition, the Athabascan group does not.
I would like to know if the Athabascans formally traded for this mask making design or if it was adapted into the art from a handful of artists on their own. I wonder if this mask and masks like it were used in ceremonies or if they were purely decorative. Art has many influences. I wonder who or what influenced the Yup’ik to make the type of masks that influenced the Athabaskan. If you pull the thread, it unravels on and on.

2 thoughts on “Artifact: The loose thread of Art”

  1. Its interesting that this mask as a mix of roots in Athabaskan and Yupik and it really does stand out, with striking black and white colors and those otter teeth! It also makes me wonder: what do the feathers mean? Is there a reason why the otter is face down and not face up?

  2. I like that you are asking questions in your post and asking people to think and to contribute to the thinking of the sourcing of this art. Art should make you think.

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