Happy Woman Potlach Mask
Red cedar, horse hair, opercula shell
Reg Davidson was born in Masset, Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands, BC) and began to carve at eighteen under the tutelage of his father, Claude Davidson. He has drawn inspiration as well from his great-grandfather Charles Edenshaw, grandmother Florence Davidson, and brother Robert Davidson. A highly versatile and prolific artist, his works include limited-edition prints, silver and gold jewelry, masks, helmets, totem poles, rattles, argillite sculptures, and drums. Reg is also an accomplished singer and dancer with the Rainbow Creek Dancers, a Haida dance group that he formed with his brother Robert. In 1980, Malaspina College commissioned him to carve a totem pole to present to Tamagawa University in Japan. Among his recent carving achievements is a major totem pole exhibition commissioned in 2006 by the British artist Damien Hirst. In 2008, Reg received a British Columbia Creative Achievement Award. His work honors traditional Haida style and displays elegant simplicity.
Derived from the Nuu-chah-nulth word pa-chitle, “to give,” the term potlatch refers to a ceremonial event that marks a birth, marriage, death, house-raising, or significant transaction. Potlatches involve ritualized exchange of gifts; the value of the gifts given or received both reflects and determines a clan’s status.
Potlatches are closely bound up with visual and performing arts as well as with family and clan relationships. Tangible gifts exchanged include masks and other carvings, blankets, and coppers. Names, hereditary dances, and other privileges are passed along to family members or special guests. Storytelling, speeches, narrative songs and dances are key components of the festivities. Potlatches have played a key role in cultural and material exchange, the perpetuation of ceremonial traditions, and the definition of individual and clan status.
From 1885-1951, potlatches were banned in Canada, based on objections by missionaries and others who viewed them as extravagant and contrary to Christian values. In recent years, potlatches have tended to be more limited in scope and socioeconomic influence, but continue as an important means of preserving cultural heritage.