Casper Mather was born in 1876 in Metlakatla BC and passed away July 19,
1972 in Ketchikan, Alaska at the age of 97.
Casper followed Father William Duncan to Annette Island in Alaska with a few
hundred other Tsimshian to form New Metlakatla, Alaska's only reservation.
Casper himself, and his brother Rev. Paul Mather preached in Tsimshian and
English from the pulpit of The Native (Indian, at the time) Episcopal Church in
Ketchikan. Around 1920 Casper went to NYC to ask Archbishop Peter Trimble Rowe
permission to build another native church in Ketchikan, which became St.
Elizabeth Episcopal church on Deermount st.
Casper and his brother Paul were also packers on Chilkoot Pass during the
Klondike Gold Rush and were also guides to the US millitary during WW1. Later in
his life Casper ran a machine shop and a house foundation company.
He could also be found by the docks selling trinkets and totem poles and totemic
forks and spoons to the tourists off the ships till the day he died. He carved
his totems the way he remembered them, as any trace of the original works had
long since been destroyed by missionaries or shipped accross the continent to
Museums, so he did his best. Although by today's standards his works are crude,
they are the only link that kept the practice of Tsimshian carving alive. Modern
Tsimshian Master Carver Robert Hewson credits Casper with inspiring him to start
carving. The Tongass Historical Society honored him with an exhibition as one of
Ketchikan's most important people. Just before his death Casper was one of six
remaining founders of New Metlakatla, and was often quoted as saying "I am the
oldest living indian carver." He hiked up Deer Mountain every week to get wood
to carve well into his nineties. I am indebted to the Remember Alaskans website
for this information.
From: Chief Seattle Arts: Robert Hewson's biography
Robert's first memories of artistic expression are musical. His
father, Wesley Hewson, and his uncle, Ray Haldane, had a band that
often practiced in the Hewsons' home. Robert's mother, Mary Haldane
Hewson, was a singer who encouraged all her children to sing. Robert
says, "Our home was always full of music." Later, Robert and his
brothers would have a band of their own. He can still pull an impressive collection
of harmonicas out of his carving tool kit.
Born in October 1946 in Metlakatla, Alaska, Robert noticed the dearth of Native visual art in
that town during his youth, "We had to go to the Trading Post in Ketchikan to see masks or
anything done in the Northwest style."
Metlakatla is a unique community, founded by a group of Tsimsian
families who emigrated from Old Metlakatla, British Columbia, in
1887. They came at the urging of William Duncan, an English
missionary who worked with the Tsimsian people for many years. He
became disenchanted with the Canadian treatment of its First
Peoples, so he traveled to Washington, D.C. to negotiate a treaty
and reservation for the Tsimsian in the newly acquired territory of
When the 900 Tsimsian moved away from Old Metlakatla to a temporary
site on the way to their new home in Alaska, Duncan told them that
he had given up his old ways to go to Alaska, and that they should
do likewise. As symbols of their old ways, they should destroy their
masks and rattles, headdresses and robes. On the beach, the Tsimsian
built a huge bonfire and burned thousands of precious objects, many
that had been handed down for generations. After that there would be
little public display of tribal art for many, many years.
Robert remembers Casper Mather, a Metlakatla Tsimsian who made a
living by carving, selling mostly to tourists. "He did the roughest
carving you could imagine, but it had a power that I could feel. I
wondered if I could do that too."
copyright 1998 Paul Nicholson and Robert Hewson