alder wood, cedar bark, hair, metal, and paint, 8 x 6 x 4.5 in (20.3 x 15.2 x 11.4 cm) excluding hair
inscribed in graphite by the artist, "Freda Diesing / 1971 / carved out of Alder wood".
Estimate: $5,000 — $7,000
Collection of Dr. George and Mrs. Joanne MacDonald, Cantley, Quebec, purchased from the artist;
Estate of Dr. George MacDonald.
While this mask has many of the hallmarks of traditional Northwest Coast visual vocabulary, it also exemplifies Freda Diesing's very personal take on representing the human face. Created only four years after Diesing began carving, it is exceptionally well executed but even more exceptionally elegant with its blend of stylization and naturalism, and its beautiful asymmetrical painting. The mask has a classic look yet it feels modern; most remarkably, however, it is an astonishingly sensitive portrait. Sublime.
Reference: For a photo of the artist wearing a button blanket and a virtually identical mask (minus a few added details - could it be the same mask?) see National Museum of Man, 'Ksan: Breath of our Grandfathers; An exhibition of 'Ksan art (Ottawa: NMM, 1972) cat. 68. The mask is described as a "Tsimshian Portrait Mask."
Note: The MacDonalds purchased these three masks directly from Freda Diesing, According to George's notes, Diesing explained that the masks depict three characters from a Gitxsan story. We have not been able to confirm this. This is the story as told by Dr. MacDonald: "Legend figure of the Grandmother of Skawa, whose village on the upper Skeena was attacked. All of the inhabitants were killed except for the Grandmother and her Granddaughter Skawa. They roam the countryside, looking for a match for Skawa, until a prince arrives and marries her."
References: For examples of masks by Freda Diesing see Peter Macnair et al, Down From the Shimmering Sky: Masks of the Northwest Coast (Seattle/Vancouver: Univ. of Washington Press, 1998) cat. 156; Daina Augaitis et al, Raven Travelling: Two Centuries of Haida Art (Vancouver: Vancouver Art Gallery/D&M, 2006) cat. 26 (ROM Collection); and Peter Macnair et al, The Legacy: Continuing Traditions of Canadian Northwest Coast Indian Art (Victoria: BC Provincial Museum, 1980), fig. 71. Robin K. Wright's Northern Haida Master Carvers (Seattle: Univ. of Washington Press, 2001) discusses Diesing's work and illustrates a portrait mask, print, and totem pole, pp. 323-326. For a raven rattle see Gary Wyatt, Mythic Beings: Spirit Art of the Northwest Coast (Vancouver: D&M, 1999), p. 23; for cormorant and bear headdresses see Gary Wyatt, Spirit Faces: Contemporary Masks of the Northwest Coast (Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 1994) pp. 30-31, 65.