The Rare Cougar Masks of the Pacific Northwest
Aboriginal culture in British Columbia is incredibly diverse. With the highest diversity of distinct First Nations in all of Canada, you can bet there’s a rich and wide range of traditions, stories and art styles throughout the province. Where one group of Aboriginal artisans may be renowned for carving totems or ceremonial masks, others are known for their weaving skills, or talents with precious metals or a paintbrush.
There are also similarities, as well, like a reverence for nature, the land and its animal spirits. While many BC artists regularly depict animals local to the region – like raven, eagle, wolf and bear – to grace carvings, paintings clothing and canoes, the elusive and mysterious cougar (or mountain lion) seems just as rare in Aboriginal art.
Northwest Coast Kwakwaka’wakw artist Andy Everson chatted about the rarity of cougar art while visiting Gordon Dick, a Nuu-chah-nulth artist who runs Ahtsik Native Gallery on Vancouver Island. Along with Gordon’s own works, the gallery also features a range of works from Canadian Aboriginal artists – carved jewelry in silver and gold, woven baskets, wood carvings, totems, masks, bentwood boxes, rattles, panels, photography, and prints.
Andy hails from the east coast of Vancouver Island and is the grandson of the late Chief Andy Frank of the K’ómoks First Nation. He has always been driven to uphold the traditions of both the K’ómoks and Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw First Nations, immersing himself in their ancient traditions, and seeking out fellow artists.
While discussing the gallery’s latest acquisition of a beautiful cougar mask by Mervyn Child – complete with sea lion whiskers – Andy remarks that he was amazed by the mask because he had hardly seen the animal in any BC art.