Thunderbird Transformation Figure
click mask for inside view
Click for open  view of transformation mask

Artist: Troy Roberts
Tribal affiliation: Kwakiutl

Thunderbird! The very name of this marvelous creature of myth stirs the imagination. To many North Americans, the name Thunderbird is synonymous with an automobile, but to the West Coast people this great bird, living high in the mountains, was the most powerful of all the spirits--the personification of "chief". Only the most powerful and prestigious of chiefs has the Thunderbird as a crest.

When Thunderbird was hungry he ate whales. On the West Coast, he grasped the two Lightning Snakes which lived under his wings and threw them down onto a surfacing whale. The snakes, striking with their lightning tongues, killed the sea mammal, then Thunderbird swooped down, picked it up in his strong talons and flew to the mountains, there to devour it.

Knowing of its skill in striking whales, a whale hunter would paint a Lightning Snake on his canoe, and then paint over the image. Although it was unseen by the whale, the power of its presence on the canoe would aid the hunter to make a strike. The Lightning Snake has the head of a wolf, and was revered for its hunting prowess.

To the Kwaguitl people there were several Thunderbirds having different names, and they too were associated with whales. When the chief of a Thunderbird clan died, thunder rolled; when the great bird blinked its eyes, lightning flashed.

On totem poles, as in prints, Thunderbird is always shown with great outstretched wings. Its distinguishing features are the curled appendages on the top of the head and the sharply recurved upper beak which is similar to Hawk's beak.

Carved from western red cedar with acrylic paint and varathane - all Canadian products -


Measurements of finished piece
Length - 20"
I Width - 27" I Height - 17"
Mask when closed- 8 1/2" x 7 1/2" I Open mask - 34"
Cedar bark skirt.......26"