Spirit Wrestler Gallery (Vancouver, Canada)

“mythological game of chess”


  • Medium: serpentine, silver, hair (moose), sinew, pau ferro, ivory, brass
  • Size: from 7 × 2.25 × 2.25 inches (king) to 2.5 × 1.5 × 1.25 inches (pawn)
    Size: 1 × 19 × 17 inches (chess board with 2-inch squares plus border)
  • Reference Code: LMX120901

A chess set! Something I have been quietly thinking about for a number of years (like about ten). With my first solo-exhibition with the Spirit Wrestler Gallery, I made a tea-set as the main piece. With this show I wanted to try something different, and this is where the chess set comes to play—pardon the pun! This project was a much bigger undertaking than I had first expected. I had a number of ideas in mind but wasn’t really sure what the designs were to be until I actually had the chance to fully concentrate on the project. Since I like to work with the ideas and images of shamanism, I thought this would be a great theme for the chess set.

Choosing the characters: for the pawns, I knew that they would have to be owls, this was a given for me, as I look at them as being the guiding spirit to the mythological world. The rooks were to be igloos, because the rook is the castle. The choice of the knights—I thought a lot about this and wasn’t really sure if I wanted to use a polar bear or a wolf, but after a talk with my brother, Russ, during which he said that the caribou is the closest thing to a horse in the Arctic, this looked good, and so it went from there. I like having the antlers on top of the head. The bishop had to be a priest or a monk—and from there it seemed natural to go with a design that I have used already with a couple of pieces in this show, which is the use of the halo effect (like the old European paintings where they painted gold halos around the heads of Jesus and Mary). The queen, of course, had to be Sedna (that was a given). For the king, I decided to go with the walrus, because I think that he is the king of the north… and he is a great figure to make because of all the tusks and whiskers!

I chose to use serpentine and silver for the one side and ivory and brass for the other. This both defined the two sides but also unifies the set with the contrast of materials. After looking over many different designs of chess sets, it was easy to see that the individual pieces would have better presence with the little bases that I designed. The chessboard will be made from silver and wood (the same wood used in the bases of the pieces). I am making it large enough to have a section for each side to put the pieces that have been removed from play.

—Michael Massie

Michael Massie

Michael Massie


Inuit, Métis

Happy Valley - Goose Bay, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada

(1962- )

Massie’s work is a reflection of his mixed Inuit, Métis and Scottish heritage. In it, he investigates both traditional and contemporary themes. He has achieved renown for his innovative teapots that combine themes and symbols from his native Inuit culture with European traditions. Massie has been twice short-listed for the coveted Prix Saidye Bronfman and has an extensive international reputation. His work has been shown in North America and Europe, including the National Gallery of Canada. He was elected a member of Royal Canadian Academy of Arts in 2011.