Synopses & Reviews
Down from the Shimmering Sky explores two centuries of mask making by Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest Coast. The Native peoples of this region have produced a rich legacy of carved and painted objects. One of the most powerful is the ceremonial mask, which has long played an integral role in defining and preserving the stories, values, privileges, status, and responsibilities of their owners and makers.
Masks are a manifestation of powerful ancestral spirits and are used to make the supernatural world visible. The earliest masks collected in the late 18th and early 19th centuries were often human face masks representing spirits which descend from the heavens and assume human form. It was only after the 1850s that masks depicting animals and supernatural creatures became predominant in collectors' closets. Down from the Shimmering Sky explores the four dimensions of the cosmos as perceived by Indians of the Northwest Coast: the celestial world, the mortal world, the undersea world, and the spirit world. Issues of aesthetics, art produced for sale, the continuation of and gradual change in forms, response to the market, and personal styles are subthemes explored throughout.
Today, Northwest Coast mask makers are among the region's finest artists. United by their shared beliefs and traditions, they continue to produce masks of extraordinary diversity and innovation. While the names of the earliest artists have been lost, the masks of Charles Edenshaw, Willie Seaweed, Mungo Martin, Robert Davidson, Tony Hunt, Arthur Thompson, Joe David, Tim Paul, and others have become widely recognized for the character and quality of their invention.
Down from the Shimmering Sky featuresphotographs of more than 150 masks from collections throughout North America and Europe, with essays providing insights into the use, history, meaning, and extraordinary aesthetic character of the masks.