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i u a pi pu pa ti tu ta ki ku ka gi gu ga mi mu ma ni nu na si su sa li lu la ji ju ja vi vu va ri ru ra qi qu qa ngi ngu nga lhi lhu lha

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Beau Dick



red cedar, acrylic paint, fabric, signed, titled and dated

12 x 8 x 6.5 in — 30.5 x 20.3 x 16.5 cm

Inuit Gallery, Vancouver, BC, 1986
Estate of Thomas and Judith Peacocke, Edmonton, AB

Born in the community of Yalis (Alert Bay), British Columbia, Beau Dick (also known as Walas Gwa’yam, which translates to Big Whale) is widely acknowledged for his importance as both an artist and as a representative of traditionally informed Kwakwaka’wakw values. His mentorship and activism have influenced a generation working to address the legacy of Indigenous and Euro-Canadian relations in Canada. As a painter and carver, Dick’s creations have been informed by traditional Kwakwaka’wakw ceremonial practices, the varied interests of institutional and private collectors, as well as imagery from Japanese and Western popular culture and art history.

The present artwork, Fool (Noohlmahl) Mask, carved in 1981, addresses the traditional subject of the Noohlmahl or Fool Dancers. Noohlmahl are active in the performances of the Kwakwaka’wakw heredity society known as the Hamat´sa, of which Beau Dick was a high-ranking member. Membership in the Hamat´sa grants an individual access to specific performances, ritual paraphernalia, and song in ceremonial life. Many of the essential rites are on display in the T’seka (often referred to as the “Winter Ceremonial” by outsiders). Considered the most important event in the ceremonial life of the Kwakwaka’wakw, T’seka has clear parallels in the ritual complexes of other Northwest Coast peoples, in which the power of supernatural beings and the risks associated with close contact with them are demonstrated to members of the community.

All members past and present of the Hamat´sa society are said to be possessed by Baxwbakwalanuksiwe’, a powerful man-eating supernatural being. The cannibalistic impulses of Baxwbakwalanuksiwe’—and by transference, the Hamat´sa society members believed to be under his influence—are said to be dangerous. Historically, performances could take on a severe or even frightening tone: any perceived infractions of the strict protocols of the dances could result in physical punishments and possibly even death. In this dangerous environment, the Noohlmahl are agents of the Hamat’sa, acting as both messengers and enforcers of rules, discouraging infractions through threats and/or physical force. Portrayed as violent, foolish and inhuman, they are said to be under the influence of Ahlasimk spirits, who are reputed to despise all that is calm and attractive. Images of Noohlmahl are often recognizable by their drooping eyebrows, cedar (or cloth) braid, and large hanging noses, where, if touched, they are said to be driven to fury.

There are competing theories about the historic origin of the appearance of some Noohlmahl masks. Although their use pre-dates European contact, some modern Hamat´sa initiates—including Beau Dick—have noted that certain styles of Noohlmahl mask may have been influenced by the appearance of Canadian government officials in Northwest Coast communities dating back to the 19th century. The humour of integrating the iconography of the Noohlmahl—these most cantankerous and officious beings—with the appearance of government agents would have been unlikely to have been lost on Kwakwaka’wakw.

Many masks depicting Noohlmahl are carved with grotesque asymmetrical faces, perhaps in allusion to Ahlasimk (and Noohlmahl) distaste for things attractive and clean, although historic and contemporary examples can be found where artists have attempted to give the Noohlmahl a more ordered and aesthetically pleasing appearance. In the present mask, Beau Dick has brought a rare symmetrical balance to his subject. There is a confidence of line and volume in the drawn-out and sallow cheeks, drooping eyebrows and nose that let the viewer know that this is indeed a Noohlmahl, but a Noohlmahl in the hands of a master.

Proceeds from this sale will go directly to the Tom and Judith Peacocke Endowment Fund with the Edmonton Community Foundation. This legacy fund will serve to support students in the BFA Acting Program at the University of Alberta as well as other arts and community organizations important to Tom and Judy.

Thomas Peacocke was integral in developing the nationally acclaimed BFA acting program at the University of Alberta. He was awarded the Order of Canada in 1996 for his contributions to theatre. Throughout his lifetime he was the recipient of a Genie Award, a Lifetime Achievement Award from ACTRA and a Billington Award recognizing Outstanding Contribution to the Alberta Film Industry.

Judith’s years as a successful varsity athlete at the University of Alberta as well as her support of Tom's students and her work with the BFA acting alumni highlight her qualities and her lifelong dedication to community enrichment.

To find out more about Judy and Tom Peacocke, or to donate, please follow this link to the Edmonton Community Foundation:

Estimate: $8,000—10,000

Auction Results

Auction Date Auction House Lot # Low Est High Est Sold Price
2023-06-29 Waddington's 27 8,000 10,000 11,562.00

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