Mungo Martin

Mungo Martin
Mungo Martin (Nakapenkim)
Born 1879 (1879)
Fort Rupert, BC, Canada
Died 1962 (1963)
Nationality Canadian
Field Sculpture, Painting
Movement Northwest Coast art
Patrons Royal British Columbia Museum

Chief Mungo Martin or Nakapenkem (lit. Potlatch chief "ten times over"), Datsa (lit. "grandfather"), was an important figure in Northwest Coast style art, specifically that of the Kwakwaka'wakw peoples. He was a major contributor to Kwakwaka'wakw art, especially in the realm of wood sculpture and painting. He was also known as a singer and songwriter.


Personal life

Martin was born in 1879 in Fort Rupert, British Columbia, to parents of the Kwakwaka'wakw Nation. He was the son of Yaxnukwelas, a high ranking native from Gilford Island. His mother was Q'omiga, also known by her English name, Sarah Finlay, who was the daughter of a Kwakwaka'wakw woman and a Scottish man working with the Hudson's Bay Company. Martin's father died when he was in his teen years, his mother remarried to Yakuglas, also known in English as Charlie James. Martin's mother wanted him to become a woodcarver, and song maker and held rituals to ensure this future.[1]

While still young, he was a regular participant in rituals, songs, arts, and traditions of the local Kwakwaka'wakw and North Coastal culture. This formed the basis of his knowledge of the Northwest Coast style, and he applied it to design, carving, and painting and life-long song making. Martin was raised in the potlatch tradition practiced by the Kwakwaka'wakw, and all aspects of Kwakwaka'wakw culture.

Martin was a promoter of the culture in his later years, convening with other noted artists, such as Tom Omhid, Willie Seaweed and Dan Cranmer, in order to prepare novices for Kwakwaka'wakw ceremonies.

Martin became a commercial fisherman at one point, to support himself financially.

He would later marry Abayah Martin, also an artist, who specialized in weaving ceremonial curtains and aprons.

All his life Martin made songs, sang them and recorded them with the Hawthornes and others. He had an interest in music in general and in folksong, and would sing songs from other tribes such as the Navajo he learned from his relative Bob Harris who met many people at the Chicago World Exhibition and even Japanese folk songs he learned from other Kwakwaka'wakw who had sailed to Japan on sealing vessels.[1]

Professional life

Wawadit'la, also known as Mungo Martin House, a Kwakwaka'wakw "big house", with heraldic pole. Built by Chief Mungo Martin in 1953. Located at Thunderbird Park in Victoria, British Columbia."Thunderbird Park – A Place of Cultural Sharing". Royal British Columbia Museum. Retrieved 2006-06-24. 

As a boy Martin had been apprenticed as a carver to a paternal uncle, but it was Martin's stepfather Charlie James, a famous Northwestern artist, who was his principle influence in honing a natural talent. Martin went on to become one of the first traditional artists to deal with many types of Northwest Coast sculptural and painting styles. He carved his first commissioned totem pole in Alert Bay c1900, and titled it "Raven of the Sea."

Martin was responsible for the restoration and repair of many carvings and sculptures, totem poles, masks, and various other ceremonial objects. Martin also gained fame for holding the first public potlatch since the governmental potlatch ban of 1885. For this, he was awarded with a medal by the Canadian Council.[2]

In 1947, Martin was hired by the Museum of Anthropology at UBC for restoration and replica work. During this time, Martin lived on the university campus, and continued to paint and carve small works during the night.

Later, Martin was hired in 1952 by the Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria, British Columbia to create works of Northwest Coastal Art as display pieces and examples. The final result was a huge totem pole, carved out of cedar, standing 160 feet tall. It was raised in 1956 and remained standing until 2000.[3] He also constructed Wawadit'la, a Kwakwaka'wakw "big house", at Thunderbird Park in front of the museum. During this time he and American anthropologist Bill Holm became fast friends and Martin designed a Kwak'waka'wakw big house on the coast in Washington State.

When Martin went to work for the museum in Victoria, his son David and his family, and relatives Henry and Helen Hunt(Helen was Martin's wife's granddaughter) and their family joined him in living in James Bay near Thunderbird Park and the focus of the work to be done. His son David, and Henry Hunt, and even Henry's son Tony who was only twelve when the families engaged in this undertaking, became apprentices. Martin trained his son David in his craft but David died in 1959. Henry's sons Stanley Hunt and Richard Hunt are also professional carvers.

It's rumoured Martin also instructed the famed Haida sculptor Bill Reid[4] although it's more likely they spent time together on some project at MOA at U.B.C. and the association was then a limited one. Doug Cranmer, who became an artist of some considerable note, a unique approach to his craft added to his knowledge of things traditional placing him permanently on a level of talent Mungo would be proud of, spent time with his old relative too; Doug was the grandson of Martin's wife Abaya'a, and was the son of Martin's first cousin, and so brother, Dan Cranmer.

Later work and death

Mungo Martin continued to work on his carvings in his later years.

Martin was significant in the Northwest Coastal Art scene for his vast amount of work and actual sculpting.

He died in 1962 at the age of 83 in Victoria and was taken on a Canadian Navy ship to be buried in Alert Bay. His wife Abaya'a died in the following year.

See also


  1. ^ a b Hawthorn, A. (1955) pp. 257-258
  2. ^ Encyclopedia of minorities in American politics. Jeffrey D. Schultz. 2000 Greenwood Press. ISBN 1573561487
  3. ^ Seasons in the Rain. Silver Donald. ISBN 0771018479
  4. ^ Hawthorn, A. (1955) pp. 258


  • Macnair, Peter L., Alan L. Hoover, and Kevin Neary (1984) The Legacy: Tradition and Innovation in Northwest Coast Indian Art. Vancouver, B.C.: Douglas & McIntyre.
  • Hawthorn, Audrey. (1988). Kwakiutl Art. University of Washington Press. ISBN 0888946120.
  • Cranmer, Barb. Mungo Martin a slender thread: The legacy
  • About Martin
  • Ask Art Biography

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