Spirit Wrestler Gallery (Vancouver, Canada)
Henry Speck Jr.

Henry Speck Jr.


(1937- )

Henry Speck Jr. is the son of Henry Speck a renowned graphic artist often attributed as the first artist to produce limited edition prints and drawings for sale. Some of these drawings were scenes of traditional life and ceremonies and others were respectful images of the bridge between Christianity and aboriginal culture. Henry Speck Jr. began carving while working as a logger. His employer was so impressed by these early pieces that he invested in the tools and encouraged him to concentrate on carving. He is largely a self-taught Kwakwaka’wakw (Kwakiutl) carver with now more than a quarter century of carving experience. Henry is delighted that now young carvers come to him for advice.

Many of his pieces are interpretations of the large cannibal bird masks used in the hamatsa ritual and the Atlikim dance series. Initiates who are earning rights, privileges and responsibilities within a major secret society, dance these large-scale masks in the hamatsa ritual. The Atlakim is a series of forty masks representing the captured knowledge of the forest. Families would often own the rights to three of the characters, which forces families to remain in contact in order to present the entire series.

Henry Speck and his wife are usually the only two people living in the isolated island village of Hopetown. “It’s peaceful for my kind of work,” he notes. “I can concentrate better.” If his workshop is remote, his reputation is not. Much of his carving goes to private collectors from Texas to Toronto; some are even willing to fly in to pick up their pieces which gives Henry a chance to get to know them personally. Given the scale and intricacy of his work, he produces only a few major pieces each year and many of these are for cultural use. Kwakwaka’wakw (Kwakiutl) chiefs commission his gigantic raven and Hok Hok masks, stretching to six and seven feet in length, for use in potlatch ceremonies. Few artists understand the need to carve these masks thin so that the dancer can maneuver them. During the Atlakim, the dancer will jump from a high platform above a doorway and must maintain a position of balance to land properly and continue the dance. Currently he’s tackling a new challenge—his first 40-foot canoe. “I’m not worried,” he states confidently, “I’ve been working with wood for a long time!”

Artist Contemporaries