This beautifully carved and painted wooden mask by the Tongass Tlingit artist Norman G. Jackson brings to light a contemporary reinterpretation of traditional Northwest Coast themes and mythical stories. In much Northwest Coast art, painted, carved, or woven imagery is used during special occasions to proclaim and validate the status of ancestral clan crests representing mythical beings.
Jackson depicts the important mythic being Sharkman, who is viewed as a key link in regional clan affiliations, especially among the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian peoples. According to Northwest Coast legends, Sharkman—also known as Dogfish, a small shark that inhabits the waters of the Pacific North Coast—once abducted a young woman who teased him. She was then transformed into a hybrid human-shark creature called Dogfish Woman, to whom ancestry in the Shark clan is linked.
In Northwest Coast art, supernatural beings and ancestors with such transformational powers are often depicted with the attributes of two or more beings. Jackson represents Sharkman in quasi-human form as a male face with two smaller subsidiary faces. Two of the faces are marked with crescent gill-slit symbols on the cheeks. The black painting around the mouth of the larger male face indicates facial hair to characterize his manifestation as a human. On the forehead, the face’s downturned, crescent-shaped, sharp-toothed mouth emulates Sharkman’s fiercest form. In his mouth, Sharkman protectively shields one of his offspring. Jackson’s Sharkman mask joins the Hood’s mask of Dogfish Woman.