Transformation Mask
ITEM: 1278

This transformation mask would open to reveal another mask below. “Masks are the means by which the supernatural world is made visible” (Holm, The Box of Daylight, p.33), however the meaning of this mask is unknown. The outer shell shown here is divided into four parts known as petals and opens from the centre to reveal within the face of an ancestral being, human or mythic. During ceremonies, dramas were acted out in front of spectators. Illusion masks such as this would create magical scenes for the audience.

Transformation masks were used among tribes during ceremonies, so how exactly did Brenchley acquire objects of such high significance? The time when Brenchley (and many other explorers) visited the Northwest Coast, around 1850, was a time of cultural disruption for indigenous tribes. Disease rapidly spread and wiped out many tribes leaving homes and belongings completed abandoned. One possible speculation is that Brenchley could have bought masks during trade because no one was able to protect objects from being taken and sold. Other situations saw tribal members and elders die leaving ceremonial objects and masks to family members who did not know of their significance. Objects were then willingly sold to collectors and museums. The lack of ownership knowledge makes it a struggle for tribes who want to claim objects for repatriation (Tweedie, 2002, pp.50-52).