• India & Himalayas

    Old but still colorful Indian mask

    Q:  I bought this mask in San Francisco, California in the late 1990s for somewhere around $100 or so..I don’t remember exactly. It seemed old at the time, and I remember the merchant saying something about it being some kind of “ceremonial” mask but I forgot all that he said. Size is about person-size. Material seems to be some kind of plant material that was pressed or glued together, but I don’t know exactly. It isn’t solid wood but definitely a natural plant-based material of some sort.  Bruce, 1194 A:  “India is the world’s largest democracy and the second most populous nation in the world. It is a land that…

  • Bali & Java

    Petruk from East Java

    Q:  Missed the boat on buying this one about a year ago. The craftsmanship utilizes high detail in many areas, and its clearly been danced.  Nate, 1193 A:  This character, known as Petruk, is easy to recognize by his long nose. Sorry you didn’t get it. The carving is fabulous. As you know, masks of Java and Bali and other parts of Indonesia are inspired by Indian influences which were originally used to propagate religious principles and dramas from the Hindu epics such as the Ramayana or Mahabarata. These masks depict archetypal characters like demons, deities, heroes, gods and villains. Masks of the World has a separate chapter for Bali & Java.      …

  • India & Himalayas

    Old, used mask from Nepal

    Q:  I took photos of these (quickly because it wasn’t allowed!) masks in a tiny museum in Bhaktapur, Nepal.  Amy, 1192 A:  The character is Indrayani, one of eight dancers in a performance of Bhairabs, the oldest and most famous drama in the Kathmandu Valley. Bhaktapur is where it started. In the nearby big city of Kathmandu you can buy lots of papier mache masks, but they won’t look anything like this one. I would guess it was made about 75 years ago. Please enlarge this hi-res scan so you can see the details. I don’t think this high quality work is done anymore. Amy– thanks for taking the risk!…

  • South America

    Pre-Columbian burial mask

    Q:  Here is a burial masks made of pure gold from the Oro Museo in Bogota, Colombia.  Amy, 1191 A: In the spirit of full disclosure, Amy is one of my beautiful daughter-in-laws. I’m sure she enjoyed her visit to the museum. Burial masks could be found outside of Columbia in some other Central and South American countries before 1492. They are not unusual, and were often made of materials other than precious metals. The museum is one of the most visited tourist highlights in the country. It receives around 500,000 tourists per year. It displays a selection of pre-Columbian gold and other metal alloys. Together with pottery, stone, shell,…

  • Misc

    Deformity masks in other cultures

    Q:  As you know, collectors occasionally run into deformity and disease masks. I’d like to hear more about them.  I’d especially be indebted if you started a blog thread on the topic.  Nate, 1190 A:  This first one is from the Ibibio people of Nigeria. It measures 7 3/4″ high. The small face with high raised forehead above tiny eyes, carved with no nose or upper lip and with teeth showing in the open face depicts either syphilitic yaws or a severe cleft palate. It comes from the Cobbs Auctioneers. The second one is a Mbangu from the Pende of the DRC. 12″ high. It represents a hunter who has…

  • Mexico

    La Puta mask from Naolinco, Veracruz

    In case some of you don’t know Spanish, La Puta means whore. These characters often show up in Mexican dances and parades. More from Aaron on his buying trip to Veracruz, Mexico:  “Another guy, who wasn’t a mask maker but sold sweets in front of his house, had a truly amazing collection.  As we passed by, I admired his collection, and he invited me into his tiny 2-room home.  Classic Mexican hospitality.  This guy had nothing, probably made $2000/year.  I asked him if he was willing to sell any of them, and he said they belonged to his children and grandchildren, so no dice.  I could have made him quite…

  • India & Himalayas

    Sri Balaram mask from India

    Sharon Lowen, a scholar and performer of Indian traditional dances, sent me this photo of Sri Balaram, a character from one of the Chhau dances in Purulia, and the brother of Krishna. It is an unused performance mask, 13″ x 10 1/2″ x 7″, collected in 1974 from a mask-maker at the Paus Mela Fair in Santineketan, Bengal. Its eyes are not opened yet because dancers do this themselves. Sharon will be in the United States for the first time in 5 years and have two days to disperse (or bring back to India) folk art collected in the 70’s and 80’s. If you have any friends in LA who…

  • Mexico

    Cobra Cavalera made by Lino Mora

    Aaron often sends photos of masks he has purchased recently. This one is by a famous mask masker who lives in Veracruz, Mexico. His masks are worn by dancers in the area and are sold in shops and galleries. His masks are always distinctive, with faces that often remind me of the Grim Reaper. Step into the dark side and buy one of his masks for your collection. Lino’s masks are usually quite affordable. Here is what Aaron writes. As you can see, he does a great job of documenting his collection. TITLE: Calavera Cobra TYPE: mask GENERAL REGION: Latin America COUNTRY: Mexico SUBREGION: Veracruz ETHNICITY: Nahua DESCRIPTION: Cobra-Headed Calavera MAKER: Lino Mora Rivera,…

  • East Asia

    Chinese decorative art

    Q:  I came across this Devil-faced mask at a local auction. It appears to be made from wood, I’m not sure what material the eyes are made of. Have you got any clue where this grinning devil originated from? I recall paying £65 for it, perhaps too much money but I like it.  Alex, 1186 A:  The quality of this wood carving is very high. The eyes are painted, but sometimes glass is used. It comes from China where skilled carvers have been slowly cranking them out for several generations. They are sold in tourist shops and art galleries around the world. Many different characters are portrayed. They are always…

  • India & Himalayas

    Nice mask from Sri Lanka

    Q: I bought this in a sale in the 1970’s and still don’t know where it came from or how old it might be. Since then it has been in my attic. Do you have any ideas?  Andrew, 1185 A:  This is a large Sri Lankan mask probably representing the demon, Maura Raksha. Do a little research on Google and you to learn more. I my opinion, it is a very decorative piece. It is probably 50-75 years old. Though it was never used, it is a great carving. Try getting the color restored… if it doesn’t cost too much. Enjoy this nice piece of art.