Notes by Bradford Clark, Curator
Nuu-Chah-Nulth Nation; transformation puppet
Commissioned by Nancy Lohman Staub
of the Northwest Coast First Nations
George David, an internationally respected carver and a member of the Nuu-Chah-Nulth Nation of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada, created this puppet of Raven for the Center for Puppetry Arts. The figure enacts the legend of how Raven brought light to mankind, a common story amongst some of the Northwest Coast nations. Having caused himself to be reborn as a human boy, Raven steals a box of light, turns back into his true form, flies up through the smoke hole of his house and brings light to the world (in some versions in the form of the moon). An innovative creation incorporating traditional Nuu-Chah-Nulth carving motifs, the mechanism of this puppet was developed in conjunction with Dmitri Carter of Seattle’s Carter Family Marionettes.
Transformation puppets have their origins in the traditional potlatch ceremonial performances of the Northwest Coast First Nations. These spectacular events feature complex string puppets and magnificent masks that transform in various ways to reveal inner spirits. Wooden boxes, buried in the earth of the ceremonial place, contain figures with special mechanisms that allow them to amaze onlookers as they dramatically emerge from the earth.
The masks, puppets and other works by George David and his contemporaries are recognized both for their cultural significance and their aesthetic qualities. Truly works of art, new pieces often display imaginative interpretations of traditional themes, can be based upon older examples, or may be inspired by a dream visitation.
Northwest Coast First Nations master carvers now produce pieces both for collectors and for ceremonial use. These artists have ensured that traditions and ceremonies related to the creation of puppets, masks and other objects used in traditional potlatches (which had been threatened during many years of government suppression) remain alive and vital.
Biography of George David
Nuu-Chah-Nulth Tribal Council
“Raven: A Trickster Tale from the Pacific Northwest” - book by Gerald McDermitt
Potlatch study guide from the University of British Columbia Anthropology Museum
First Nations puppets in the catalog of the Museum of Anthropology, University of British Columbia
Nootka Texta, a book documenting the Nuu Chaa Nulth oral tradition
Center for Puppetry Arts catalog page