Sisiutl Transforms into Killer Whale: Back Mask by Chief Sam Johnson, Kwakwaka'wakw
Sisiutl Transforms into Killer Whale: Back Mask by Chief Sam Johnson, Kwakwaka'wakw First Nation red cedar, pigment, cord 23" high x 55" long x 19" deep (open) *Custom made stand included
Kwakwaka'wakw "back mask" depicts a Killer Whale, the traveller and guardian of the seas, and considered the "Lord of the Ocean." To the Kwakwaka'wakw, all great chiefs who die are transformed into Killer Whales. Symbolizing long life, they are believed to be closely related to humans, thus allowing transformation from one to another. In this case, the viewer is tricked into believing this is Killer Whale when in fact it is the powerful Sisiutl, the supernatural being who has the ability to transform into anything. This rare and highly collectible mask has been danced by the carver.
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.