One of many masks carved by well-known Wolastoqey and Plains Cree artist Ned Bear has gone missing from the Saint John Art Centre, its executive director says.
"We're saddened, shocked, and we really want to have a push to get this mask back as quickly as possible," Andrew Kierstead said.
The mask is referred to as a "Pawakam." It is made out of lightly stained butternut wood and stands a little more than half a metre in height. It has long feathers with beads coming down the sides, and a feather coming out of the forehead.
Pawakam is the Plains Cree word for "spirit guide," and that is how Bear referred to his creations. He was renowned for his carvings across Atlantic Canada.
He died in late 2019.
In past interviews, Bear said he felt as though the Pawakan masks he made were not his own works, that they belonged to the spirit guides he channeled as he created them.
This mask had been in the centre's permanent collection for the last two years, Kierstead said.
The centre posted on social media that it "was the centrepiece of a permanent display acknowledging the unceded lands of the First Nations in this part of New Brunswick."
"I believe that the person who took the mask didn't do it for money," Kierstead said.
"Art can be extremely powerful, and I think this particular mask really spoke to this person. I would consider that to be totally misguided, because it is a piece of public art, it is for everyone in our community to enjoy."
The art centre has put out a $500 reward to anyone who can return the mask. Anyone with any information about the mask is being asked to contact Saint John police at 506-648-3333.
"If this person has such a connection with the mask and feels almost a spiritual connection, they should reconsider what they have done," Kierstead added. "It should be returned, and that person would be a better person for it."
The Saint John police didn't immediately respond for comment about the investigation.