The Moon Mask



This red cedar moon mask was carved and painted by Phil Gray for my friend Kathy Bagshaw Mann. Kathy and Phil both kindly agreed for the use this image of the moon mask carving as my website logo. Eternal gratitude to both of them.

About the moon mask

This Ts'msyen style mask depicts the moon, as represented by a woman's face. It is not only a woman's moon mask, but also meant for a woman to be worn, danced, and revered as such. Ts’msyen people continue to dance and sing in our Sm'algyax language (hint: the x is a guttural sound). The moon mask is no different, it could also be worn by the right person if the right occasion called for it. 

As Ts’msyen, we believe that there is no word for art. It has a special spiritual meaning and we believe that the masks have their own life force. We believe that the spirits of our ancestors come to Phil through his art and are able to channel both our adaayx (to pass on oral histories) and ayaawx (laws). The masks are one form that Ts'msyen people's adaawx are used to translate these messages for future generations. It holds a lot of power not only to the one wearing it, possessing it, but also those in the presence of it. 

The mask was made from one piece of red cedar that came from Vancouver Island. The log came to Phil’s studio in X̱wemelch’stn (“Homulchesan” or Capilano reserve) and was purchased with the intention of being used to make a totem pole. The log wasn’t quite suitable for that purpose but was just right making this mask. Phil cut a part of the log out to make this mask, which he carved, sanded, and painted using two different colours of paint and styles of application. 

There is a light turquoise acrylic paint around the exterior parts of the moon mask and is lightly brushed with a light white paint over the moon’s face. There's also some turquoise detailing around the eyes, mouth, and eye brows to give these focal points a clear feminine definition. 

Phil employed a technique known as washing, for which he first sprayed the face and then applied a thin layer of acrylic paint to give it that light white tinge. This technique was done to visibly display the grain of the red cedar. 

About the artist

Phil Gray is maternally Ts'msyen from the gisbutwada (blackfish) clan of Lax Kw'alaams in BC as well as paternally Cree and Dene from Fort Chipewyan in Alberta. He grew-up in East Vancouver and continues to call Vancouver ‘home'.

Phil first began his Ts'msyen style of artistry in 1998. His interest in art started much earlier, as Phil and I used to sit around the table drawing houses for hours when we were young kids. Phil continued to draw and create, reading about Northwest Coast art, and learning about it by being around other artists with a similar passion. Phil’s artwork reflects his unique ability to portray a contemporary aesthetic, but he’s proudly rooted in the traditional Ts’msyen artistic style.

Most notably, in the fall of 2014, Phil was honoured to be awarded the BC Creative Achievement Award for First Nations Art. Additionally, in 2010, he painted Olympic gold medalist Jon Montgomery’s skeleton racing helmet, which bears a monochromatic turtle on it. This was a proud moment not only for Phil, my family, but also all of Canada.