“The Dluwalaxa “Returned from Heaven Ceremonies” and the privilege to wear the eagle-beak nose frontlet came through a dowry from the Hildzakw “Bella Bella Tribes”. Joe’s grandmother Mary’s grandmother Annie Innis nee Sewid was the daughter of Mukuxwi’lakw who was a woman of Mamalilikala “Village Island” and Hildzakw decent. Through Mukuxwi’lakw’s dowry came many Bella Bella ceremonial privileges along with two chief’s dance headdresses that depict Wikwwilbe’ “Eagle-Nose Beak” crest. These powerful frontlets are still in Joe’s family’s possession as they continue to practice the dances that they have inherited from their northern ancestry. These prestigious dowry transfers represent the strength of the women in Kwakwaka’wakw culture. The central face depicts an important Hildzakw ancestor who had a bird-like nose that he retained after he had supernaturally transformed from his bird form into human. Most ancient Dluwalaxa frontlets display family crests that are associated with birds or beings that are able to ascend into the heavens where the spiritual power is given for the dances of this important society. Many of these carvings portray ancestors with both bird-like and human qualities, often showing a bird face with human hands or a face on the chest indicating the ability to transform in a man. One of the frontlets that Joe’s family owns has a small man sitting on the rim wearing a spruce root hat with three potlatch rings that indicate the figure’s accomplishments in giving to his people and upholding his chiefly obligations. The small man has his wings folded back in a wing-like position and appears to be ready to leap forward off of the rim. This stance connects to the theme that the ancestor even in his complete human form, still has the ability to fly and change back into his supernatural bird character. Abalone that is finely inlayed on frontlets represents the power of the shining heavens with its rich clouded blue skies that reflects down to our world. Occasionally, copper is also inlayed or applied to represent the sun’s red and copper toned rays streaming down from heaven. Joe has carefully studied the two ancient Dluwalaxa fronlets belonging to his family and has created his version of the noble crest of the Eagle-Beak Nose crest.”
Although no one in Joseph Wilson’s immediate family made art, the Kwakwaka’wakw artist, born in Alert Bay in 1966, was interested in art from a very young age. He says, “I have drawn many different styles of art. I felt that I was going to be an artist in one way or another.” At twelve, he took a design course from Doug Cranmer. The class, a birthday gift from his sister, was his “first formal exposure to art.” Alert Bay was an important learning ground for Wilson, as he worked with and was inspired by older carvers such as Wayne Alfred and Beau Dick. “There is no substitute for working with experienced artists that have been taught by older, more experienced artists that came before them,” he notes.
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