Speaker Transformation Mask with Wolf by Chief Sam Johnson, Kwakwaka'wakw
Speaker Transformation Mask with Wolf, c. 1980 by Chief Sam Johnson, Kwakwaka'wakw First Nation red cedar, pigment, cord 21" high x 11.5" wide (closed) & 25" (open) x 12" deep
Each 'namima or family group of the Kwakwaka'wakw has a designated speaker who is knowledgable about his family's privileges and history. This speaker mask represents the carvers family, and is letting the audience know that their family crest is the Wolf. As well, the inner face of the mask is a Sisiutl, the Double Headed Serpent, letting the audience know that this is a chief lineage family who has the rights to this powerful symbol. This is a rare depiction of a speaker mask.
Hereditary Chief Sam Johnson was born 1935 in Kingcome Inlet, British Columbia. Sam is a member of the Kwikwasut’inuxw Haxwa’mis First Nation (Kwakwaka’wakw Peoples), and was the son of the master carver Chief Herbert Johnson. Upon meeting his wife Lena, he moved to Gilford Island where he remained for over forty years. There he began his carving career began.
Sam works in the traditional Kwakwaka’wakw style using only hand made tools, and finishing his masks with knife cuts rather than sand paper. He carved the “Greeting Totem Poles,” along the shoreline, as well as many carvings in the “Big House” in Gilford Island. The Seattle Art Museum has a large collection of Sam Johnson’s masks depicting the animal kingdom.
Sam and Lena had three sons, Rick, Charlie, and Sandy, all of whom carried on the carving traditions of their father. As well, he was a great influence and teacher to many of the the current Kwakwaka’wakw carvers including Peter Smith and Don Svanvik.
As the oldest son, Sam moved into the head seat and became chief of his band after the passing of his father.