Who could resist this jolly mask carved out of yellow cedar by Tlingit artist Roy Watkins? Not me. I loved happy art and when I found this turquoise lady, we seemed to be a divine match.

In native art, each carving told a story. When I asked the young, eager Tlingit trading-post clerk for this mask’s tale, he said, “I’ll call Roy to make sure I get it right.” With the artist nearby, Juneau seemed more like a village than a town.

Roy described the turquoise woman this way: 

She’s a shaman, symbolized by one eye half-closed in a vision quest. It’s a good vision because of her big smile. The two small faces in the corners of her mouth represent spirits that are visiting her from the other world. Placed on her mouth, the spirits give divine wisdom, speaking through her voice. She likes what they are saying.

Her hair is cedar bark, pounded to make it soft. Cedar is waterproof, so her hair keeps her dry, protects her.

Later, I learned that the young shopkeeper had pounded the cedar with Roy.

I forgot to ask Roy what the tongue sticking out on one tiny face symbolized. I later read it might mean “welcome,” but was also seen in the Tlingit war dance signifying courage. The concept of a brave welcome worked for me. I fell in love with her. 

My blue shaman reminded me to keep the divine presence close and allow the sacred to find expression through me. I enjoyed spending time with her and often wondered what she saw in her visions: good welfare for the Tlingit? I, too, wished the same for my nearest and dearest. She’s become a precious companion, her joy infectious to all who see her.


Cate Burns is the author of Libido Tsunami: Awash with the Droll in Life, in which she unearths the ludicrous in the emotional live traps surrounding us — in families, friends and disastrous romances. Get it on Amazon today.

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