Comox Valley artist Sandy Johnson’s powerful ‘Cry for Change Mask’ is heading south.

The Kwakwaka’wakw artist’s mask is a call to action on the environment and highlights the ongoing scandal of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG). The mask wears an expression of anguish and features oil pipelines for eyebrows, forest fires, clear cuts, fish farms, sea-lice, the Highway of Tears (Highway 16) and a red dress in memory of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. The mask also has the painted design of an eagle, black bear, and killer whale, all animals that are dependent on wild salmon.


Thanks to the generosity of American couple John and Peggy Varnedoe, this incredible mask will soon be at home in the recently reopened Burke Museum in Seattle at the University of Washington. The Burke is a center of excellence for the study of Native arts of the Pacific Northwest. 

John and Peggy Varnedoe are regular visitors to the Comox Valley. Each summer they drive over 5000 kilometers from their home in Savannah, Georgia to visit friends and enjoy the scenery, culture, and hospitality that the Comox Valley and Vancouver Island have to offer. They see the purchase and donation of Sandy Johnson’s mask to The Burke as a way of giving back, saying thanks and supporting local artists. It is also their way of engaging in reconciliation with local First Nations. John and Peggy want Sandy’s mask to be seen by as many people as possible in the hope that it will educate and inspire thoughtful debate around environmental and social issues.

Kwakwaka’wakw artist Sandy Johnson spent his early years on Gilford Island, situated off the northeastern coast of Vancouver Island and is a member of the Kwikwasut’inuxw Haxwa’mis First Nation. In addition to carving and painting, Sandy is currently employed monitoring sea-lice on wild salmon populations. When asked what he thought about the mask going to Seattle, Sandy remarked that he’s “pleased Cry for Change is going to a major museum where the mask will get good exposure and be seen by many people.”


Spirits of the West Coast Gallery owners Walter and Tatjana Stolting are delighted ‘Cry for Change’ is headed to Seattle. “The Burke Museum holds one of the largest and most important collections of Native American art in the world, so it’s wonderful that Sandy’s powerful and thought-provoking mask will be joining their world-class collections. We are sure that Sandy’s mask will find a worthy place and have a large impact at The Burke Museum where it is bound to inspire debate around the environmental and social justice issues facing the Pacific Northwest.”

Information about the artist can be viewed at the following link:

Information on the Burke Museum can be found at the following link:

About: Spirits of the West Coast Art Gallery is located at 2926 Back Road, Courtenay, BC, V9N 9G9. Sandy Johnson’s Cry for Change Mask is on display at the gallery until Saturday, January 25th.

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