Showcased by Franck Marcelin

Walrus spirit mask

Height : 40cm –height with the stand : 48 cm.Width : 40cm

Cedar wood, pigeon feathers, rattan

Presumed period: first half of 20th century

Yup’ik population

Nunivak Island

Alaska, USA

Provenance :

Brant Mackley Collection, Santa Fe

Private collection, Montreal


For the Yupiit, every animal has a soul, the Yua, which will be shown respect, or they might suffer from their punishment. According to their beliefs, it’s the Yua’s who decide if and when they make their bodies available to man, thus determining periods of abundance or famine.

The adult male walrus, with its impressive size, strength, and aggressiveness, is a model of virility in Eskimo country.

The Yupiit are famous for their ceremonial masks. The men must observe a certain number of prescriptions to ensure the benevolence of the animal souls.

The manufacturing process began with the collect of the wood, which was specially salvaged for the occasion and subjected to special rites, to respect the Yua. Then, the sculptor follows the shaman’s instructions to shape the object and finished by adding the various elements. Ellanguat, large wooden hoops set with feathers and figurative elements, symbolize the different worlds of the Inuit universe. The shaman on stage would pass through them to symbolize his travels. The hoops surrounding the mask have a similar significance.

The animal’s soul, in conjunction with the shaman, made its body available to humans, determining periods of resource abundance or famine.

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