Students will identify colors and materials used in the Four-faced Hamat’sa Mask and explore the relationship between appearance, sound, and movement. Students will also choreograph a dance with simple movements.
Intended Age GroupEarly childhood (ages 3-5)
Length of LessonOne 25 minute lesson
Standards AreaVisual Arts
Students will be able to:
- identify colors and materials in the Four-faced Hamat’sa Mask;
- demonstrate an understanding that appearance and movement are complementary concepts for the Kwakwaka’wakw society; and
- choreograph a dance using simple movements.
- Show or display the Four-faced Hamat’sa Mask for the students to see. Ask the children to take a close look at the mask and identify the animals they see. What kinds of sounds do they think the animals make? Have the children imitate those sounds. Point out how part of the mask moves and makes noise, which adds to the overall effect of the mask.
- Explain to the students that masks like this are worn by dancers from the Kwakwaka’wakw tribe. Explain to students that you are going to play some music for them, and invite the students move freely, imagining that they are wearing the mask.
- Have the children take turns choosing their favorite animal. Invite everyone to move around the classroom in a way that demonstrates the characteristics of the animals named. Encourage the children to make sounds with their bodies as they dance (clap hands, stomp feet, and so on).
- Gather the children together and have them create a simple dance using some of the movements they have just demonstrated. If possible, have students create masks for the dance using available classroom materials.
- Some kid friendly music that your students will enjoy dancing to
- About the Art section on Four-faced Hamat’sa Mask (included with the lesson plan)
- One color copy of the mask for every four students, or the ability to project the image onto a wall or screen
- Visual Arts
- Observe and Learn to Comprehend
- Relate and Connect to Transfer
- Language Arts
- Oral Expression and Listening
21st Century Skills
- Critical Thinking & Reasoning
- Information Literacy
About the Art
Who Made It?
This mask was carved by George Walkus, an artist we know very little about. He was an active carver in the 1920s and 1930s. Walkus was a member of the Kwakwaka’wakw [KWALK-WALK-ya-WALK-wuh] Indian Tribe from Northern Vancouver Island and British Columbia. The Kwakwaka’wakw are known for their skillful wood carvings, particularly their masks and totem poles. Individual carvers often attempt to leave a personal mark on the objects they carve by creating slight variations to the traditional mask form. Because masks like this one were commissioned for a specific purpose and were meant to create a certain dramatic effect, the best carvers were highly sought after.
What Inspired It?
Masks are an important part of ritual dances and aid in telling the stories of the tribe. They often depict important animals and ancestral spirits. Masks like this one are worn during the dances of the Hamat’sa society, the highest ranking Kwakwaka’wakw dancing society. This mask represents the Crooked Beak of Heaven, or the Cannibal Spirit, who is an integral character in the Hamat’sa winter dances. The wide, flat mouth and curved beak distinguish this kind of mask. It is worn by members who appear during the society’s initiation ceremony. The dance revolves around a young initiate to the society who is kidnapped and taken into the woods by the Cannibal Spirit. The boy, on the verge of manhood, becomes wild and needs a series of songs and dances to tame him. The entire dance tells the story of his capture and return to the human world.
Winter dances are highly dramatic and are performed inside dimly lit structures around a central fire. George Walkus used a variety of techniques to enhance the theatrical effect of the mask. The colors, for example, had to be visible in the dim lighting. Walkus used bold blocks of red and black color and painted white around the eyes to reflect light from the ceremonial fire. Rhythmic designs draw the viewer’s eyes to certain parts of the mask—the characteristic curve of the largest bird’s beak, the prominent nostrils, and the beaks of the three smaller birds—and bring these areas to life. Walkus attached cedar-bark fringe to the bottom of the mask in order to camouflage the wearer. The fringe sways with the dancer as he crouches, jumps, and moves throughout the room. Sound is crucial to the drama of the mask’s appearance. Hidden inside is a series of strings that the dancer uses to open and close the beaks, creating a loud clapping noise. The movement and sound created by the beaks add surprise and drama to the ritual, emphasizing the voracious nature of the spirit. Walkus outlined each bird’s mouth with red, making the movement of the beak even more striking. The viewer sees only the external beauty of the mask, never realizing the complexity of its operation.
The Crooked Beak is the largest bird seen here and is recognized by the large arched beak. A crane sits on top of the Crooked Beak bird and has a slight raise to its beak. Two raven heads project from the back of the mask.
Below the mask is a shield made of bark fibers that come from the yellow cedar. This serves to camouflage the wearer during the dance. In addition, dancers wear a cape of shredded cedar bark that falls to their ankles, enhancing the effect of movement. Bark is also attached to the top of each bird creating a feather-like effect.
Walkus used traditional colors to paint the mask. Black serves as the primary color, red outlines the nostrils and lips, and white can be found in and around the eyes. Paint adds to the dramatic effect of the dance as light reflects off of the shiny mask.
Concealed somewhat in the mouths of the birds are strings that were used to move the birds’ beaks. The beaks can be snapped one at a time or all together. During the dance, viewers would not be able to see the intricate network of strings that was hidden inside the mask.