This exhibition tells the story of a set of masks commissioned and used by a family of
Kwakwaka’wakw Native Americans living on the Northwest Coast. Dancers wore the masks when
performing the Dance of the Forest Spirits during a potlatch ceremony. The potlatch is a tradition
specific to the Native Americans of the Northwest Coast where the host demonstrates his prestige
and position by presenting family-owned dances.
The host then gives away his belongings to all
who attend and witness his family’s stories. The exhibition features sections that explain the
potlatch and the specific dance and story associated with the DIA's masks. Voices of
Kwakwaka'wakw carvers, elders and scholars help tell the story of the masks.
Native Americans of the Northwest Coast have been potlatching for hundreds of years. Dance of
the Forest Spirits shows how the Kwakwaka’wakw continue to express their culture through the
potlatch, despite the changing circumstances in which they live.
Dance of the Forest Spirits is the first exhibition in the Gibbs Learning Center, located off the
Farnsworth Lobby. It is a multi-media exhibition that features hands-on activities for all ages,
including young children. Labels offer suggestions to help adults explain some of the ideas to