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You beat him to the beat of the great river deltas and the scene in the will. The seasons the seasons and the fish and the gathering festivals when the seasons came and when we made stories and songs and dances of our lives and for the dances we made masks. They beat the people of Alaska occupy the vast stretch of land by the
Yukon in the Kuskokwim. They are the heirs of a rich culture especially their masks have found their way into the great museums and collections of the world. The masks are called a thing to cover the face. They are carved of driftwood painted with clays and decorated with hoops and feathers. They represent men and animals and creatures of the imagination the unseen world things known only in dreams or visions or whatever a man might see in his mind's eye whatever shape he could hold in his imagination the Airds and the curved knife could shape from driftwood. The masks might be funny or frightening or full of spirit but they were always magic the magic that comes of being able to exchange one face for another to become if only for the space of a dance.
Another person or another thing seen through the eyes of a mask the world becomes a magical place. When the missionaries came they looked at their masks without favor. It seemed to them that their masks were too much a part of the Old World the old beliefs they saw the magic in masks not as a part of a people spirit and imagination and art but as superstition and idolatry. And so little by little as the people took up the new religion they put the masks aside. In some places even the dancing stopped. Everywhere that people stopped dancing with masks. There is a traditionally big story how the crane got his blue eyes. It tells how the crane out making there is one day took his eyes out and set them aside to watch for danger. Someone stole the eyes and the blind crane had to pick blueberries and use them for eyes instead.
That's what happened to their masks. Someone stole their eye masks or still made by masters who remembered the great mask dances. But they were no longer made with eyes to see with they were made as all their creations and works of art. Art for tourists and collectors. They no longer needed to follow the shape of a man's face. To take the grip of a dancer's teeth they no longer needed. I used to see with painted eyes would do. Sometimes when a thing has lost its original purpose it lives on as a model or a toy or a stylized representation. It comes to have new and different meanings. The old meanings are lost. Mass carving even evolved into a new art form a kind of sculpture that strayed farther and farther from the original purpose. It
was art and it had its own validity and its own purpose. But it was no longer mask making. That's how things came to be. The masks lost their eyes in fewer and fewer people remembered the magic in the cars. When dancers could change their faces and sing the stories of another world. That's how it was until the fall of 1982 just before freeze up in Bethel. Bethel is a small town on the Kuskokwim River. The trade and transportation hub of the ubiquitous people come to Bethel from more than 50 villages in the Yukon Kuskokwim Delta. They come to buy and sell to go to the hospital or the college to pick up cash at seasonal jobs. Bethel attracts people from all over the region some looking for the new world some bearing parts of the old one. Among them are the
dancers and carvers who make up a loose knit group known as the Bethel native dancers the Bethel native dancers have been together for years and little by little they pull the strands of traditional culture together from all over the Delta. They're the keepers of the old dances and songs and the creators of new ones. They pass these on to any young people who will listen. The older dancers remember masks and they wanted to see them again with the help of a grant from the Alaska State Council on the arts. The Bethel native dancers embarked on a project to revive the use of masks in their dances. They had encouragement from artist Ronsin and a teacher and specialised in Eskimo art among Eskimo people in the world. This area had the most complex and most
imaginative type of mask that was made by Eskimos. They were highly developed art pieces or a piece that they interpret for their own use that we interpret as our pieces. They're very highly developed which are now world treasures in the museums. Soon I'm going to particularly stress the importance of returning the mask maker's art to a community purpose. I'm really excited to see that the mast and the mast project will take will take off and go on. Just because you want to do it for yourselves the Bethel dancers commission traditional masts from three master carvers Nick Charles Sr. pay Hendrickson and John Salley are known locally
as Uncle John. In the old days the selection of masks for a ceremony was the province of the shaman or magician. From dreams and visions the Shah minnow described the creatures of the spirit world or the animals and there you are the human like spirit that dwells within him. The shaman my car the mask himself or describe his vision to our Master Carver who would interpret it for him. Hendrickson remembers not everyone made masks back in those days you couldn't make a mask unless you were a shaman or unless the shaman ask you to make one. Now at this time the dancers carvers and elders met together to choose three masts and the dances to be performed with them. Although the Finnish masks are to be the property of the dancers Leader Dick Andrews reminds them that things weren't done that way in the past.
These masks were only used once and after the dance was over they would give it away for a toy or cetera. Indeed many of the masks found in museums were given away or sold after their one time use in advance. True dancing masks are too rare and too valuable these days to be discarded after one dance. The best dancers will use them in a major performance and hopefully four years after to ensure that the art itself will continue. The group brought in promising apprentices from regional villages to learn from the Masters. And while the carver set to work the drummers singers and dancers prepare for the performance the material for the masts is driftwood gathered on the riverbanks and beaches. There are a few trees in this tundra world. The Carver selects tough
stumps saw them into blocks and cue them into shape with the ads. There are no drawings and no plans. Each Harbor holds the image of His creation in his mind's eye. If his vision is a strong one and he holds it firmly as he carves it will emerge from the wood. For the apprentices this is a time to watch in this ancient system of teaching and learning. There is little explanation. The student asks few questions each motion of the Master Carver is minute observed when a step seems clear. It's time to try for yourself. Do so myself. So don't tell me. I began by making my own bows and arrows. My father didn't make them for me.
Later I realized that it takes hands on experience just like these there are no penalties for error. An apprentice learns by observation by trial and by making mistakes. A beginner would not be criticized for a mistake that might true one in the entire mess. The only failure is giving up patients is the first lesson of this art if you want to go down the right path. Why you know I didn't get much instruction from my father or the other man. I learned the most by trying to make things for myself remembering what I'd seen and how the work was done. It's not an easy way to learn especially for students used to the western way of education with explanations answered questions clearly outlined steps. Here the student must use the scheme a way of watching the eye that
captures every detail by observing and then trying each step. The student discovers the process and knew there was room for error. But there's also room for innovation in trying each step for himself. The Apprentice may find a better way. My father used to say you can't learn by doing nothing. You've got to make an effort. That way we learn. Once the basic shape of the mask has been hidden from the word most of the finer work is done with the curved knife. The make up of this handmade tool dates back centuries from the time when the first fragments of iron made their way from hand to hand across Siberia to the traders of the Bering Sea. For that short blade the curved knife is a reminder of the days when Irons was more price than gold. Guided by the carvers the curved knife can be one of the most
precise of tools a cutting edge a gouge and a plane all in one. In the hands of a novice it seems a stubborn and dangerous thing in the hands of a Master Carver its razor sharp edge is the point at which imagination becomes reality. In the old days this work was done in the closet the communal house where men of the village ate slept. Made tools and equipment and told stories. Those stories might be funny or serious fanciful or historic but they were at the heart of the educational system. From the stories heard in the cars the young learn to missional wisdom and values how a man should live or work in the cause it is no longer the center of a man's life. An education is now the province of the village school. The stories these men tell often hark back to more traditional time. Yes.
We remember saying our elders the first generation everything then was made from wood. The everyday implements they made. I have fish traps Spears spear throwers whores. Everything about bowls and ladles. Those were some of the things made for women my husband would make sure his wife had implements for every day living. He made sure she didn't go without crafts want made for money back then everything was made for the family's use those people were like that. Those that we saw the first generation they weren't quick to lead in difficult ways. Things weren't easy for those elders as they talk the individual must take shape. Nick Charles cards the face of a famous showman the man said to have predicted the coming of the white man. K. Hendrickson a seal master and Uncle John shapes the face
of the snowy owl. Although these men have carved many wall masks hanging you know in museums and private collections This is a far older art that calls on long held memories of how to shape the carving to a human face light enough to wear and open enough to breathe through. That's achieved by hollowing the mask out trying it on and trimming until the feel is just right. Then comes the detail that makes all the difference. The carving of the eyes to cut holes for human eyes is to give the mask a life and purpose that no wall decoration can have. The face is that of a dream. The eyes are a spirit. Each mask is also equipped with mouthpieces small pigs that the dancer can grip with his teeth.
In the old days this was said to be a trick of the shaman to make it appear that the mask stuck to his face by magic. The final touches are now added to the masses. The owl is provided with ingenious breathing holes into the corners of its beak. Some of the fine detail of the face will be hidden by the paint. Most will never be seen by the audience. Nonetheless it is there as the masses take shape. The dancers prepared to perform their stories. This too is traditional. In the old days dances were full scale performances carefully thought out and rehearsed. Now as in the past the old songs must be read out in the complex motions. Talk to the dancers you dance like they beat themselves has evolved into something unique in the NE with the world its styles and conventions set it apart from the dancing of other Eskimo
peoples such as the two the Nordic men almost always. Can they dance when they stand. Men dance with dance at stiff bird feathers women with bands of reindeer hair. Men sing the songs as they keep time with great keep track of the thought dancers have much to prepare. In addition to the songs that accompany the three masts they'll perform six other dances including the traditional Well come downs while the dancers practice the carvers are putting the finishing touches on the masks. That includes a characteristic feature that's traditional in much of the you big world a hoop of bend spruce to represent a universe in the old days. A mask might be ringed with as many as five of these hoops said to represent the upper worlds of the year. These were the worlds visited by
the shaman in magic journeys that were later related in songs and dance. The hope is made from a long strip of spruce shaved smooth and even by the curved knife in the old days it would be steamy but hot water works just as well. A carver bites the wood to soften it as he bends to a perfect circle. The ends of the hoop are fitted and tied to hold the shape as it dries. The whole project from the mast on spokes fitted at the corners so it will seem to flow and hail over the place. Next come the attachments that will surround the who they may be parts of the creature portrayed by the mask like the feet and wings of Uncle John's. Or they may be elements in the story told by the masks like the paddle and ice hope that's wrong Kay Hendricks and seal Nick Charles carves a different sort of attachment
the magical ship seen in the vision of the shaman You see saw you Eskimo dance masks are made for dramatic effect as well as symbolic value in the old days. Many were decorated with the manes of reindeer hair or feathers. Tough time got caught and then going 10 minutes of wood the pieces were designed to move as the dancer moved. Adding to the spectacle and the excitement in the dimly lighted the carvers and attached their pieces with the springy bird quills so that they quit were as the dancers were. Next the car burst paint their masks with traditional pigments koi and mineral colors obtained from nearby Nelson Island. The white is a mixture of clay and water soaked into the wood and fire dried in the flame of a gas stove. The red and brown are made from an oxide of iron in
the old days. These colors or valuable trade items in other parts of the region and artists kept their pains in intricately carved wooden boxes. The black is India in replacing the ash or graphite used in the past when the masks are thoroughly dry. It's time to lash the symbolic hoop and attach the appendages. Small holes are all going into the hoop to receive the bird will attach mass and then load it into place. Charles remembers when the glue was homemade. It was made with blood but they didn't have no blood. They'd make their noses bleed and you rub it until it turns white and it makes you strong. At last the three finished masks hanging on the wall ready to tell their stories. Uncle John's owl is surrounded by parts
feet wings and a feather. And by the creatures that provided food evolve and a willow ptarmigan Grigson seal is surrounded by the gear used in the hunt. Charles Sherman is crowned by the magic shift. It's painted with a large I'd have bases that figure in the story of prophecy. It's time for the dress rehearsal before the masks are worn. Nick Charles explains each one to the dancers relating its story and pointing out the various parts. The masks will be worn by a young dancer who began learning the art as a child. The effect of the masks is electrifying and the return of the songs that go with them has inspired the dancers and their apprentices
to revive some of the other traditions that have fallen from use. By the Night of the performance the local high school gymnasium has been transformed into the memory of a great cause. In the center of the twine and feathers radiating outward. It's called That means a likeness of the sky or the universe of a person or a child. And then to move with the beat of the drum to come up with the music.
The first dance is a descriptive one along with the incoming tide angry as he waits his feet in the service. He has the sand in his frustration. Dance is the traditional Wellcome the one dance. It's often performed by men wearing women's head dresses and beads keeping time with dance sticks adorned with feathers and tufts of dolls. Before the song of the seaside is performed Nick Charles tells his story to you. This is a mass that the dancers wanted before the white men came out of people here where you pick a man with a name. You see so I directed the carvers to make a mass like this one and his
forehead was a sailing ship. And though they had never seen such a thing they carved it as he described it had two masts and then a platform between them. There were the figures of two men. We made only one man on this mass because of our pace. The following summer a ship exactly like the carving arrived of the sea and its sides were images of half human faces. You see sideways to people not to go out to the ship or to trade for the goods before bed his family to buy the goods because he said they would be useless. Nonetheless the people continued to trade for the goods until one day a man went after noticed that the eyes on the side of the ship were turning toward the sea. The ship sailed away and now the trade goods to the people it fired soon disappeared.
The seaside daughter cried for us. She had seen on this ship sailing that she would not be comforted you see side directed his wife to spread the skin on the ground outside. When she did so it began to hail the hail that fell on the ground for that which fell on the skin did not. They brought the Hail to the buzzer and made a necklace for the daughter. The ornament didn't last for long but the following summer a real ship came to the mouth of the Kuskokwim just as you see Side prophesied. That was considered to be the first time my people came to this place. For centuries the seal has been the staff of life for the people of the coast. The stores of food and clothing as well as the light and heat provided by its rich oil this dense and liberates the seal hunt a complex and
dangerous undertaking. It wasn't easy. They didn't hunt with these modern boats these outboard motors. Only with a bio and a pad like this they hunted with harpoons no guns. The syslog was a very important tool for its rival. When you traveled back Iraq you were told to take it with you had all kinds. If you were to fall into a snow covered progress this hook could break your fall and help you to climb out. The flat part at the end serves as a shovel and the other and is used as an ice pick. This one in the hat was worn when travelling in rough seas. They'd put on waterproof parkas made of steel gut and tie the bottoms tightly around the opening of the plant that the service as an umbrella allowing you to break when a wall of water washes over you because the ceiling it's fish. There are also included in this past as decorations.
The owl dance tells the story of a mother and her fretful children. She tries to quiet them with a song of their father who will soon be home with mice and ptarmigan for their supper. Failing to calm them with a song she rocks them. When that doesn't work she is to a spanking.
Eyes of the Spirit
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KYUK (Bethel, Alaska)
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Chicago: “Eyes of the Spirit,” KYUK, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed May 21, 2019,
MLA: “Eyes of the Spirit.” KYUK, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. May 21, 2019. <>.
APA: Eyes of the Spirit. Boston, MA: KYUK, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from