Mask depicting The Copper Maker by Peter Smith, Kwakwaka'wakw Nation
Hand carved mask by Kwakwaka'wakw Nation carver Peter Smith. Created in 2001, this mask is carved from red cedar, cedar bark, pigment, inlayed with hand hammered copper, and two copper pennies in the eyes. The mask measures 14" high x 12" wide x 6" deep.
Copper is a symbol of wealth, cultural nourishment, and spiritual power among the Kwakwaka'wakw. Names of high ranking people often contained references to copper, such as “Born to be Copper Maker Woman” and “Copper Maker.” Copper was also used as a decorative motif on garments, masks, staffs, and crest carvings, where it represented wealth. Copper was also considered to possess magical properties affecting human health.
Born in 1972, Smith came from a small village called Gilford Island: the Kwicksutaineuk band of the Kwaguilth nation. In 1976 the family name, “Gig kalas”, was passed onto Peter during a family potlatch. This name means “keeper of the treasure,” and it is is Peter’s responsibility to care for the songs, family names and traditions. Peter became the hereditary Chief of his family in October of 2011.
Peter Smith’s interests in the arts began at a young age. He started drawing at the age of seven. The Kwaguilth culture of carving masks, dancing, and story telling has had an important impact on Smtih. At the age of four he became a dancer in his late grandmother’s potlatch. Currently, he is the Coordinator of the Kwaguilth Cultural Dancers dance troupe. Until recently, his background as a carver has centered around carving masks for ceremonial dance purposes.
Smith began his training first under the tutelage of his late uncle Walter ‘Long John’ Smith, and later continued his education with Sam Johnson. Peter Smith is now apprenticing under Kwaguilth carver Simon Dick. In November of 1998, Simon gave Peter the honor of dancing his transformation mask for the opening of the show “Down from the Shimmering Sky” - Masks of the Northwest Coast at the Portland Art Museum.