From somewhere in West Africa

helmet-style mask
helmet-style mask

Q: I was wondering what the origins of this particular mask are. A friend of mine acquired it through a house clearance shop but we cannot really tell you anything about where it came from. The hollowed out rear seems to have been burned out, as it is blackened by soot. It is also made of a quite strong smelling wood, possibly to do with age. This specimen is about a foot in total length, from chin to top of the hair. Thank you in advance. Perry, 843

A: This is a black helmet mask that combines many features of various West African cultures. It could come from any area where masks and other wood carvings are made for sale. It’s nicely made and would look good if placed on a stand. Tourist masks like this can be fine for decoration. But real masks– the ones that are actually worn in native cultures– are often better looking and always more interesting. I suggest that you start exploring this exciting subject in museums, books and the Internet. C


  • Perry

    Thank you so much for clearing this up for me, i wasn’t overly confidant that it would be a genuine piece of tribal attire but to know it is African, and Western as i did initially think, is quite fun. Thanks you again, though i was wondering if there is a way to guess a rough age from this, since styles and techniques would change with time i thought that it may give some indication as to how old? 🙂

    • Bob Ibold

      Most of the African masks sold today have been antiqued after the carving and staining. So they always look old and used. If you can find the date when the mask was first purchased I would just add a year. Dating African masks without any provenance can be difficult because some of the manufacturers are quite skillful at antiquing.

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