Kwakiutl-Style Transformation Mask

Value (2007) | $1,500 Retail$2,500 Retail
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GUEST:
Well, I got this thing in Maryland from a dealer about nine years ago. And he said that he had gotten it from the estate of a missionary up in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania about nine years before that. So I guess he had bought it around 1980, somewhere around that range.

APPRAISER:
1980. Did you buy it on the spot, or did you look at it for a while?

GUEST:
I kind of saw it and I bought it. I scarfed it up right away, because... (chuckling) you don't see this kind of thing too often here in the East anyway.

APPRAISER:
It's unusual.

GUEST:
Soon after I purchased it, I had it appraised, back in '99, I believe. She thought it was probably Kwakiutl, Northwest coast, probably Vancouver Island, right in that, and dated it somewhere probably 1900 to 1910, valued it at, like, $8,000, auction value.

APPRAISER:
Okay. Now, was there anything that she said to you that made you suspicious?

GUEST:
No, she didn't seem to have any... you know, any issues with it.

APPRAISER:
Okay, when you looked at transformation masks, were they like this?

GUEST:
I'd never seen anything this big.

APPRAISER:
All right. We know it was a transformation mask. It's in the style of Kwakiutl, from the Northwest coast, British Columbia. It's a dance mask. Now, it took two people to lift this up on the table.

GUEST:
Right.

APPRAISER:
So nobody could dance with this thing.

GUEST:
Right.

APPRAISER:
That's where you should have really gotten suspicious, because this thing is way too heavy and way too big to be a ceremonial dance mask that a man would have worn on his face, and during the course of the dance he would have opened it up, and it would have articulated, and it would have been very dramatic. As you can see, with any transformation mask, when you close it, you get a completely different look, which is what the transformation is all about.

GUEST:
Mm-hmm.

APPRAISER:
And you see again, you know, this very broad nose, these full lips, not exactly stylistically what we want to see in a traditional Kwakiutl transformation mask.

GUEST:
Okay.

APPRAISER:
And then we could go into further things, like if we wanted to, we could test the paint.

GUEST:
Uh-huh.

APPRAISER:
You'll notice back here we have hinges.

GUEST:
Mm-hmm.

APPRAISER:
We could go in, we could look carefully at those hinges, and all of this would give us information. But we have some serious red flags now. I think it was made in Indonesia, and it was made for this marketplace, and it was made for the decorative market.

GUEST:
Okay.

APPRAISER:
Now, basically, everything that you learned was that this is a fine art piece. This is actually a decorative piece. Now, you paid...?

GUEST:
He was asking $5,000. I talked him down quite a bit from there. So, you know...

APPRAISER:
In the $3,000 to $4,000 range?

GUEST:
Yeah, yeah.

APPRAISER:
Okay. This is a very dramatic piece. You saw the buzz in the hall. They love this kind of thing. Unfortunately, in most showrooms, I think you're going to see a little bit less than you paid for.

GUEST:
Yeah.

APPRAISER:
I think it's going to be more in the $1,500 to $2,500 range. I think it's very saleable. I think it's dramatic. I think it's a terrific piece. But it's just not exactly what you thought.

GUEST:
Okay.

Appraisal Details

Appraiser
Dallas, TX
Appraised value (2007)
$1,500 Retail$2,500 Retail
Event
Baltimore, MD (June 16, 2007)
Form
Mask

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