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 young visitors.
Water Ousel Mask, c. 1940;