This false face mask was hand carved by Gene Thomas from wood and has real horse tail hair and a cow leather strap. The artist signed the back of the mask.
There is some controversy over the display and sale of Iroquois False Face Masks.
Some members of the Iroquois Nation are very sensitive about the sale of False Face Masks or their display in museums. The primary concern is over the sale or display of masks that have been used in religious ceremonies and are considered to be "live." The masks we offer for sale have not been blessed and are not considered to be live masks. The artists who make these masks do not consider their sale or distribution into non-Iroquois society to be an issue. They often earn their livelihood or supplement their income by making the masks and see it as a way of promoting Iroquois culture.
Every now and then, we receive e-mails from individuals who want us to stop offering the masks. We explain our position and have offered them an opportunity to post a message on our website provided they give us permission in writing to reproduce the information so as to avoid any possibility of copyright violation. To date, nobody has responded.
Below is the text of a letter written by the late Chief Jacob Thomas to the owner of a major gallery in Canada stating his position on the sale of Iroquois False Face masks:
I am responding to your letter of October 3, 1994 requesting clarification of masks being sold to galleries, collectors, and other institutions.
First of all in the past the people carved different forms of art to help support their livelihood. Particularly today as there are no jobs this maybe the only source for the people to make a living is to sell their art. Therefore many people do carve and sell their art. I believe that this is an honest thing to do rather than living on welfare or having to steal to provide for one's family.
The masks that I carve are not "blessed" nor given any power for healing, and there is nothing wrong to sell these masks. On the other hand, I do agree when the people say that sacred masks should not be sold. Sacred masks are blessed and given power to heal and to cure. This is not a religious practice but it is a tradition that has been passed on from generation to generation.
People are very critical but they overlook the practice to sell native medicine, to compete in native dances, and to sell their culture by smudging and by selling lacrosse sticks (it's medicine too). Today lacrosse sticks are sold and played all over the world.
If masks are forbidden to be sold and it becomes too sacred then it will become a secret and no one will be able to carve a mask and know what it means and it will become lost among our people.
This is the way I make my living I carve many forms of art and I make an honest living. If there is anyone out there who needs more information they can contact personally. I hope this clears confusion.
- Chief Jacob Thomas
On July 10, 2012, we received a call from Lana Watt, the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer from the Seneca Nation of Indians, claiming that she has the right to re-patriate any masks from federal institutions or any entity that receives federal funding or has federally guaranteed bank loans (Small Business Administration?). They do not appear to be making any distinction beween blessed religious objects from the longhouse and commercially produced art objects made by Iroquois artists.
We have collected masks from many artists. Here are some artist biographies.
John Elliot is a member of the Mohawk Nation of the Iroquois Confederacy and belongs to the Turtle Clan. He started carving in 1967 at the age of 15. He is self taught. John is a member of the Medicine Mask Society and can carve any mask style in any size. His masks are in collections around the world.
"Bud" Roger D. Henry
Bud, Brandee, and their daughter, Paige.
Picture was taken by Paul Crosby in Toronto on November 5, 2010.
Ni gana wu:'u (Small Pond) was born on April 4, 1979. He is a member of the Onondaga Wolf Clan. He began carving stone sculptures around 1987, when he was eight years old. With seven older brothers, all of whom carve, it was a natural predilection for him. Bud prefers to use hand tools to create his expressions, like chisels and utility knives.
He often carves images of faces, eagles, and wampum designs. The size of his carvings varies from small pieces to larger works. He finds stone sculpting to be a relaxing activity, and continually tries to make each sculpture better than the last. His sculptures are sold in various galleries around Southern Ontario and have been purchased by the likes of Former President Clinton. Besides the stone sculptures he also carves the wooden masks known as the False Face and the Corn husk masks.
A certified welder, Bud looks forward to joining his old brothers as an ironworker, but hopes to continue developing his art.
This information was provided to Chichester by Bud on October 1, 2010 and is reproduced with his permission.
Clarence Longboat is a member of the Onondaga Nation of the Iroquois Confederacy and belongs to the Wolf Clan. Clarence mostly carves wood false face masks. In 2009, he was about 50 years old, lives at Six Nations, is married, and is a grandfather. His masks are in collections around the world.
Chief Jacob E. Thomas
Cayuga Chief Jake Thomas (Ha-da-jib-ghen-ta), Descending Cloud, Sandpiper Clan, shortly before his death.
Photographed by Paul Crosby at the Six Nations Reservation in Ontario, Canada. Photograph copyright of Paul Crosby.
Chief Jacob E. Thomas was a unique man who helped start a contemporary Iroquoian cultural revolution. For more than fifteen years, Jake actively worked at preserving culture, traditions and ceremonies of the Iroquois people by using his skills as an artist, craftsman, and traditional orator.
Mr. Thomas was the original Museum Curator for the Woodland Indian Cultural Educational Centre in 1972. In 1975, Mr. Thomas was employed by Trent University in Ontario, where he was an Associate Professor within the Native Studies Department.
Mr. Thomas' work has been featured in numerous books and periodicals. He has done translations of several Mohawk manuscripts and selected wampum belts.
Jake did his job well as a Faithkeeper in the Longhouse. He was also a Confederacy Chief, condoled in 1973. He served his people with knowledge and pride, and many Six Nations people are richer for his efforts. He will be missed by many.
Gene Thomas is the fourth son of Chief Jacob E. Thomas, Sr., and is one of the best carvers of False Face masks active today. He was born on the Six Nations Reserve in southern Ontario on June 14, 1958. Gene is Onondaga (Wolf Clan). Gene began carving wooden false face masks when he was 14 years old under the tutelage of his father. He started soapstone carving in 1980 and has been carving steadily ever since. He is recognized as a premier carver in both wood and stone. His carvings are in collections around the world.
Registration of Masks at Six Nations
Many Iroquois False Face Masks are not signed, but have numbers stamped into the side under the hair to confirm that the masks are registered on Six Nations in Ontario, Canada as authentic Iroquois False Face Masks. As part of the registration process, the Iroquois name of the artist is recorded in a registry, but not the English name. For example, one artist works under the Iroquois name of Hoda'nyeken which translates into English as "Stick on the Shoulder."
A Note on Unsigned Masks
As members of the Indian Arts and Crafts Association, we support aggressive legislation designed to prohibit non-Native merchandise being sold as though it were Native-made.
In the course of our business, we come across situations where collectors are selling off masks accumulated over many years or individuals who have inherited masks and the original owner has died and is not available for consultation as to the exact circumstances regarding the initial purchase of the mask.
Unsigned masks are offered only if we have complete confidence as to the authenticity of the mask as a Native-made item based on the reputation of the collector and our expert knowledge of these masks. We will not offer for sale any masks where we have any doubt whatsoever as to their authenticity.