ORONO — The University of Maine’s Hudson Museum is home to an artifact that may have inspired the logo design of the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks: a carved Northwest Coast transformation mask.
The wooden mask, which depicts a bird of prey when closed and reveals a painted depiction of a human face when opened, is part of the William P. Palmer III collection on display at the museum.
The brightly colored mask, which has mirrors for eyes, is 2 feet long when closed and 3 feet long open. Hudson Museum Director Gretchen Faulkner says it likely was carved from cedar in the late 19th or early 20th century.
Faulkner says that Richard Emerick, the late UMaine anthropologist and founder of the Hudson Museum, told her years ago that the wooden mask was the inspiration for the Seahawks logo that was unveiled in 1975. But there was no corroborating information in the mask’s collection file linking it to the Seahawks.
Now, though, a possible link exists.
Robin K. Wright, curator of Native American art and director of the Bill Holm Center at Burke Museum at the University of Washington, attributes the mask to the Kwakwaka’wakw (kwock-KWOCKY-wowk) — Indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest Coast.
A few days before Super Bowl XLVIII, Wright posted a blog “Searching for what inspired the Seattle Seahawks logo” (http://burkemuseum.blogspot.com/2014/01/in-search-of-true-inspiration-for.html#.UvEBWnddUw).
The mask that Wright pictures in her blog as the likely motivation for the Seahawks design appeared in Robert Bruce Inverarity’s 1950 book, “Art of the Northwest Coast Indians.”
It’s believed to be the same mask displayed at the Hudson Museum, catalogue number HM5521.
In 1982, avid baseball fan William Palmer of Falmouth Foreside bequeathed the mask, as well as other Northwest Coast art and an extraordinary collection of Pre-Colombian artifacts, to UMaine.
After the Seahawks’ Super Bowl win over the Denver Broncos on Sunday, Feb. 2, Faulkner told museum board member Isla Baldwin what Emerick had shared with her years ago about the mask being the inspiration for the Seattle football team’s original logo.
Baldwin discovered Wright’s blog while doing online research.
Contacted in early February, Wright said she’s thrilled to learn where the mask is housed. In a televised interview just prior to the Super Bowl, Wright said she expressed hope that the blog and TV interview might help unearth the location of the mask.
Masks are worn in Kwakwaka’wakw ceremonies that include singing, dancing, and giving of gifts, Wright says, and often memorialize a deceased chief.
When the logo was unveiled in 1975, John Thompson, then-general manager of the Seahawks, was quoted saying that the logo designers referenced books about Northwest Coast art for inspiration.
Faulkner invites fans of art and athletics to visit the museum to see the piece; the museum is open Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.