Another mystery mask

Q: I bought this mask at an estate sale about 10 years ago. The individual had about 50 masks in his collection, but with no real focus. Many were tourist pieces… a number from South and Central America. This one was tucked away in a corner… but had no identification. I like Japanese art and this struck me as perhaps an older Noh mask, but there was nothing the family new… or anything with the mask that would give me any indication of history. It is a light wood (almost like balsa) and you can see the grain. The painting detail is rather primitive. I’m good at searching online usually… but I can find nothing like this. The only thing I’ve seen is that the eyes on this mask look like some of the Noh characters. Also, the chord that was on it was very old… not new. And I even checked Native American masks (thinking Pacific NW)… but found nothing. Other than that, I’d love to know what you think might be its origin… and potential use and age. And it’s about 9 inches tall… about 6 across… and to the tip of the nose it’s about 7 inches deep. Jack, 1539

A: I agree with everything you said. I would also add Indonesia as a possibility, but that’s not much help when you consider how large and diversified it is. There are some serious mask collectors who read these blogs regularly. Be sure to enlarge these excellent hi-res photos, especially the rear view. I hope you have an idea to share. A?


  • Aaron Fellmeth

    That’s a tricky one indeed. Probably not Japanese. Morphologically, it looks vaguely Indonesian, except for the eyes and the choice of wood. Most (not all) ritual Indonesian masks are made of pule wood, which this is not. My best guess is Ecuador. The eyes are typical of Ecuador, and the wood looks like it could come from that region. Also, I’ve seen some older Ecuadorian masks with similar coloration.

  • Bob Ibold

    Good to hear from you. And thanks for mentioning the Ecuadorian eyes. I’ve spent some more time looking for that protruding nose and lips. No luck so far. I wish Joseph Gerena was still around!

  • Chris

    Like Aaron, I also am inclining towards Ecuador, as of those blue-lined, circular eyes. However, I somehow doubt that the mask comes from the Ecuadorian Cotopaxi Highlands, as they seem to almost always use the heavy hardwood and produce thick, large carvings. The wood seems to me rather coming from the Amazon,as it is balsa-like. Maybe it’s some kind of geographical hybrid from that region, who knows…. That mustache actually points towards Latin America anyway, in my opinion.

  • Bob Ibold

    Chris mentioned the possibility of a hybrid from between the Andes and the Amazon. I have occasionally experienced this happening all the way down from Ecuador to Argentina. There are a few small tribes scattered along this North/South line that practice masquerade. Unfortunate, I know very little about them.

  • Jack Smith

    I appreciate the comments and input. I use Google images for research on items like my mask and I can almost always find something similar. But with this mask and the unusual style of the eyes and mouth (and lips), I’m not finding anything like it. Even as a subset on another mask. So, your suggestions give me more key words to toss into the search string. I did spend some time trying to figure out the wood and Larch seems like a good choice. But it doesn’t really help narrow things down since it grows around the world. Anyway, I’ll keep my fingers crossed. Thanks again for the suggestions.

  • Nate

    I agree with Aaron; Ecuador.

    Eyes are the dead give away….

    Probably an Ecuadorian carver influenced by looking at Javanese thinly carved masks. Less likely to be the opposite e.g. a Javanese carver mimicking Ecuadorian eyes.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

I accept the Privacy Policy