Sunday, August 11, 2019

A Kwakwaka’wakw sun mask returns to B.C.

A Kwakwaka’wakw sun mask was seized during an infamous raid on a potlatch in British Columbia, then improperly sold, and spent decades in France before being returned home to B.C. (Marsha Lederman, 'Almost 100 years after being seized and sold, a Kwakwaka’wakw sun mask returns to B.C.', July 20th 2019)
 Donald Ellis, a Canadian dealer in Indigenous art for nearly 45 years, orchestrated the mask’s return, negotiating the sale and putting up his own money – a six-figure sum, he says – to buy the mask [...] Mr. Ellis’s involvement with the mask dates back to 2017, when an academic, Marie Mauzé, told him a story over dinner in Paris. She had been asked to assist in the auction catalogue entries for a group of Northwest Coast objects at Christie’s. Among them was the sun mask, which Ms. Mauzé recognized from photos taken after it was seized in 1921. “You can’t sell this,” she said, as Mr. Ellis recounts. 
It was on record as having been seized by 'Indian Agents' during an illegal potlatch in December 1921 held on remote Village Island east of Alert Bay.
Indian agent William Halliday got word and officials descended on what has come to be known as the Cranmer Potlatch, arresting participants and confiscating some 750 items. [...] Halliday sold [the sun mask] with more than 30 other pieces, to George Heye in New York [...]. Halliday was not permitted to sell these objects and was reprimanded for doing so. [...] It has now been discovered that the mask was brought to France after the Second World War by the world-renowned anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss, and sold at auction in 1951 to collector Pierre Vérité. His son, Claude Vérité, inherited it and offered the mask at Christie’s [...] Mr. Ellis decided to purchase it [...] “I have a pretty strong sense of right and wrong,” Mr. Ellis said of his motivation during an interview at a Vancouver hotel on Tuesday. “I want this to show that … dealers are not all bad guys.” Also, he says, he has done very well and wanted to do something to give back.

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