Tlingit Wolf Masquette & Ancestor Mask

Value (2014) | $250,000 Retail

They date back, I believe, into the 1890s where my great-grandfather was a missionary to what is now called Haines, Alaska. And they've been a part of the family ever since. When they moved back to the mainland states they brought various items with them, and this was in the collection.

Did your grandfather have much contact with the Natives from that area?

Oh, yes. Yeah, he was a teacher and a missionary there for about ten years. So he established relations and friendships.

These are early masks, much earlier than what we typically see. The mask to my left depicts a wolf. The mask closer to you probably depicts an ancestor, a revered ancestor, perhaps a guardian figure. The wolf, a major predator, was a revered animal in the Native world. A fierce hunter, a feared beast, and something that maybe warriors would like to emulate, that ability to hunt. In the ears there are eyes and there's a bit of a beak. This represents a raven. So this animal, this wolf, is being further empowered by a raven, an animal of the upper world. Both of these objects are shamanic. It's interesting that your great-grandfather was a missionary. I presume he was a Christian missionary?


In this instance, in the Native world we have an animistic religion. Everything has a spirit-- rocks, trees, clouds-- everything has an in-dwelling spirit. The shaman attempts to reach the spiritual world through the intervention of these creatures of the natural world-- wolf, raven-- and that empowers the shaman to help us in our world. In the mouth of this wolf we see red pigment. Red is an envivifying color. It associates the creature with the upper world and the powers of the upper world. So we have color symbolism here. You'll notice also a bit of abalone in the ear and also in the eye. It would have also been in the eye here. Abalone reflects light. That's a spiritual reflection in Native animism. The mask to the right of similar age is painted black, these are mineral pigments. The green-blue is from a copper oxide pigment. All natural pigments, no trade materials whatsoever. The wood, by the way, would be a cedar, cedar or spruce. It's a soft wood, easy to carve, resists moisture. One of the reasons why they've been able to last so long. These date to the 1700s.

Oh, my.

These were being worn in shamanic rites 100 years before your great-grandfather collected them. It's unheard of to find objects, generally speaking, from the 1700s. It's just very, very rare. The fact that these are so old and have such power I think obviates the issue of condition. The wolf, on a retail basis, I believe would sell in the neighborhood of $75,000. The guardian figure, the mask, perhaps also in a retail basis would sell in the neighborhood of $175,000. We've never seen...

No! (chuckling) Oh, my gosh.

This is really, really remarkable material.

Oh... wow, oh.

These are among the most rare objects in North America. They're really, really special. They come from the Tlingit tribe. These are the northern tribes of the Northwest coast.

Incredible. I'll have to watch the episode to find out how much you really said.

Appraisal Details

Trotta-Bono, Ltd.
Shrub Oak, NY
Appraised value (2014)
$250,000 Retail
Bismarck, ND (May 31, 2014)
Tribal Arts
March 02, 2015: Since this segment was recorded, appraiser Ted Trotta let us know that after further research, he believes the bird depicted on the Wolf Forehead Mask is more likely an eagle than a raven.

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