Braden Holtby’s new mask designed in collaboration with Luke Marston and David Gunnarsson. (Mike Wavrecan photo)

Braden Holtby’s new mask designed in collaboration with Luke Marston and David Gunnarsson. (Mike Wavrecan photo)

B.C. Coast Salish artist designs new mask for Canucks goalie

Braden Holtby’s new mask features artwork by Luke Marston inspired by the legend of the seawolf

New Vancouver Canucks goalie Braden Holtby will be sporting a new mask, designed in collaboration by Vancouver Island Indigenous artist, Luke Marston, and NHL mask artist David Gunnarsson.

Holtby’s initial mask attempt, featuring an Indigenous thunderbird design, was greeted with controversy. The thunderbird mask was not created in collaboration with an Indigenous artist, which led many to criticize it for cultural appropriation. Holtby apologized, and committed to working with a Coast Salish artist on a new mask.

When Marston, a member of the Ladysmith-area Stz’uminus First Nation, first saw the thunderbird mask, he was surprised to learn an Indigenous artist wasn’t involved.

“It was cool that he wanted to put native art on his mask, but he just went about it the wrong way,” Marston said. “They just didn’t know that it’d be so offensive to people appropriating an art form like that.”

The new mask features a design inspired by the Coast Salish legend of the sea wolf — a pack of wolves that can transform into killer whales. Marston has said the story represents families travelling together, and hunting on land and sea.

“Every time I do something for somebody I talk about what they want. [Holtby] asked me to share some stories with him about different things. He wanted something that was more universal, legends that every one has,” Marston said.

“I started telling him about the orca — because of the Canucks and the orca — everyone on the coast kind of has a version of that. A lot of nations on the Island like Nuu-Chah-Nulth, Kwakwaka’wakw — up and down the coast everyone has a version of orcas transforming into wolves, and hunting the land and ocean in packs and pods.”

Marston asked if Holtby wanted to revisit the thunderbird design, but Holbty wanted to start with something new. Holtby was hooked by the legend of the sea wolf, as it’s a fitting metaphor for the Canucks as a team.

“That’s what he liked about it. I told him ‘you guys are on the hunt this year’,” Marston said.

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Both an away mask and a home mask are being designed. Each will feature unique Coast Salish designs. Marston hinted that the away mask may feature a Coast Salish eagle design.

Marston and the Canucks hoped to have the home mask ready for the NHL season opener against the Edmonton Oilers, but the mask is still being equipped with the proper protective padding. In a tweet, the Canucks said that the mask will ‘debut in games soon’.

Marston said that working on the goalie mask was a fun experience for him. When creating traditional masks the work is more serious. Working on Holtby’s mask gave him the opportunity to blend tradition with mainstream society.

“It was super fun and exciting. I was texting with Holtby, and talking to the Canuck’s brass about everything. Collaborating with David Gunnarsson was great. It’s not just me that did it, it was a collaboration between myself, Gunnarsson and Holtby.”

In 2015, Marston unveiled his Shore to Shore sculpture in Stanley Park, a 14-foot bronze-cast sculpture that honours the link between Portuguese and Coast Salish First Nations cultures. At the unveiling Marston met Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini.

When Marston saw the controversy around Holtby’s thunderbird mask, he reached out to Aquilini and offered to work on a new mask with authentic Coast Salish designs.

“I love that fact that Francesco, the Canucks, and everyone involved respect First Nations and our art form enough to correct this and address it,” Marston said.

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