February 20, 2014

Mask that inspired the Seahawks logo discovered in Maine museum

**Update: The Kwakwaka’wakw mask that inspired the Seattle Seahawks logo was at the Hudson Museum in Maine and is now on display at the Burke Museum in Seattle through July 27, 2015!

By Robin K. Wright

Shortly after publishing the blog post, “Searching for what inspired the Seattle Seahawks logo,” we were contacted by Gretchen Faulkner, the Director of the Hudson Museum at the University of Maine. She informed us that the British Columbia Kwakwaka’wakw mask, believed to be the inspiration for the original Seahawks logo, is part of the Hudson Museum collections.

It is so exciting to know where the mask is today and to have the chance to learn more about it. Gretchen sent color photographs of the mask both open and closed. The image of the closed mask shows the “wings” above the eye lying horizontally rather than vertically like ears or horns, as in the Inverarity photo (below).

A color photo of the mask in its closed position.
Hudson Museum cat. no. HM5521.

The open color view of the mask shows that the front of the beak lifts up to become the long neck and head of another bird with a human face on its chest. The wings that appear to be ears when closed stretch out to the sides while open, while the two sides of the eagle’s beak open to reveal yet another human face inside.

The mask it its open position.
Hudson Museum cat. no. HM5521.

According to the Hudson Museum, the mask was part of the collection of the German surrealist artist Max Ernst, and after his death in 1976 was acquired by a private collector, William P. Palmer III. The Palmer collection came to the Hudson Museum in 1982.

According to oral history, anthropologist Richard Emerick, the founder of the Hudson Museum, knew that this Kwakwaka’wakw (pronounced: KWA-kwuh-kyuh-wakw) mask from the northeast corner of Vancouver Island was a source for the Seahawks logo design, but the Museum had no written documentation about this.

The comparison from our original blog post,
"Searching for what inspired the Seahawks logo." 

The mask had been on exhibit in past years, but had always been shown in the open position, so its similarity to the Seahawks logo was concealed.

After the Seahawks won the Superbowl, Gretchen told Isla Baldwin, a board member of the Hudson Museum, about the oral history of the mask as the Seahawks logo design inspiration and after a bit of research Baldwin discovered our blog post.

I am very happy to know where this Kwakwaka’wakw transformation mask now resides, and am grateful to Gretchen for sending color photos of it. I hope to pay the mask a visit soon in Maine!


**Update: The Kwakwaka’wakw mask that inspired the Seattle Seahawks logo was at the Hudson Museum in Maine and is now on display at the Burke Museum in Seattle through July 27, 2015!

Dr. Robin K. Wright is the Curator of Native American Art and Director of the Bill Holm Center at the Burke Museum, University of Washington.


steviepinhead said...

Too cool! This has been an incredibly interesting side-motif to the Seahawks' Super Bowl victory! Thanks so much for your diligence. The history and detail regarding the mask add depth to the logo art, and this kind of research about the logo art may in turn draw increased interest in the art and culture of the Northwest region that the Seahawks have so ably represented!

Mike Barbre said...

Very cool! I just want to make sure I have it right, though. This means the mask did not originate in the Pacific Northwest region, but rather created by a Native American tribe in Maine.

Burke Museum said...

Hi Mike - Thanks for the question and for pointing out an area for clarification. The mask originated in the Pacific Northwest on the northeast side of Vancouver Island (Kwakwaka’wakw) but now resides in the Hudson Museum's collection.

spinlily said...

Do you think that's a goose riding on the eagle? ;-)

The whole thing is incredibly beautiful and reminds me of another carving of a person inside a salmon inside a salmon... Is there somewhere to learn more about transformation masks?

Joe A said...

Being a Seahawks fan in NJ, my fiance and I are about to schedule a visit to Maine to visit our nephew's good friend and to check this museum out. Great research!!

Anonymous said...

Robin, thanks very much for the article. Really interesting history.

Did you find out whether the designer of the Seahawks logo ever acknowledged or compensated the Kwakwaka’wakw? Surely if you heavily borrow from another's art, one could be accused of plagiarism.... unless you received prior approval from, or compensated the original artist.

Burke Museum said...

@Anonymous, unfortunately we don't know whether or not the designer of the Seahawks logo compensated the tribe or original artist.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your response to my query. In that case, perhaps the Seahawks should. They pay Texas A&M an annual fee to use the "12th Man" slogan, so they should do the same to the Kwakwaka’wakw to use a likeness of a piece of their art.

Anyhow, I'll get off my soapbox now.

Anonymous said...

I think it longs for a home back in the PNW tbh. Maybe Paul Allen could make an arrangement.

Burke Museum said...

We're currently talking to the Hudson Museum in Maine about borrowing the mask, so all the Hawks fans could see it. We'll make sure to keep the blog updated with news about the mask... and perhaps Mr. Allen will be one of its visitors!

Anonymous said...

how interesting that so many modern views entail the valuation of cultural art in terms of money. Indeed, the franchise no doubt makes a great of the stuff from the sale of logo items. I couldn't begrudge a gesture on the part of the team, or a recognition of such a gesture by acceptance on the part of that culture's living members. But to frame the conversation in terms of a debate about who owes what to whom doesn't seem appropriate. Suggesting that we reduced such treasures- either physically or symbolically- to a form of property to be bought, sold, licensed or leased seems counterproductive to the goal of preserving their true value. In my opinion, that kind of cheapens it, whereas the use of the symbol as representative of the unique regional history is an homage. This is not to say that NFL logos are generally appropriate expressions of respect for their inspirations, but perhaps we should let the business be a business and the cultural artifact be the cultural artifact. Maybe instead of trying to force our views and judgements on others, we would learn something from them instead.

Anonymous said...

How old is the mask? When was it made? Aren't there a lot of similar "seahawk" looking sculptures on native American totem poles throughout the Northwest? Why do we think this particular one inspired the Seahawk logo even though we have no real proof? How did it end up in Maine?

Burke Museum said...

Response to "How old is the mask? etc..." Here is what Robin said:

"We can't say exactly how old the mask is and we don't know who carved it, but based on its style and collection history, we believe it was carved by a Kwakwaka'wakw artist sometime in the late 19th century or around the turn of the century. Based on a collection number on the mask, we believe it was acquired by the Fred Harvey company sometime in the early 20th century, and from there went to the Max Ernst collection. When Ernst passed away, his collection went on the market, and it was purchased by a dealer in California, who in turn sold it to the benefactor of the Hudson Museum, William Palmer, who donated it to them in the 1980s.

There are indeed many many eagles, hawks, thunderbirds, and other supernatural raptors represented in Northwest Coast Native art. However, we know the published picture of this specific mask from the Inverarity book is the Exact photo that was used by the NFL designers, because the NFL has confirmed this, and the photo of this mask taken from the book as well as the old Seahawk logo were was published in an article by Neil Modie, Oct. 8, 1975, in the Post Intelligencer, confirming this."

Reverend Shawn said...

The mask has the cobalt blue colour that is NOT in the traditional colours of the First Nations of Vancouver Island, but is part of the traditional coloyrs of the Nuxalkmc people centred around Bella Coola - a bit farther north and on the islands and mainland North east of Port Hardy. The cobalt was and remains a distinctive colour in Bella Coola / Nuxalkmc Art. The human face in the centre of the transformation mask also bears more of the design elements of Nuxaalk particularly the blue around the eyes. You may want to double check the origins of the mask - the colours and design look more Nuxalk to me and I'm familiar with both nations and their art

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