East Asia

Huge Korean lion mask

Q: I have a pair of large masks that I purchased from an antiques dealer several years ago. He collected a lot of strange/interesting things and I really liked these masks a lot. Both are almost identical with very subtle differences. They seem to be made of a paper mâché mix with possibly a fiberglass tape…not sure. The sizes are 22 inches wide by 24 inches high.

I purchased a massive lot from him so there wasn’t an individual price. Both of them have two metal handles placed on each side (obviously to hold), and also a painted swing bar in a half moon shape that swings up and rests in the middle (both the bar and the two handles are in the back).

The hair on both seems to be made out of standard yarn and in a lot of various colors. There are two brass bells placed in the mid and top of the head. They are in really great shape. Gregory

A: I believe your interesting mask is one of a kind. Possibly it could even be a class project or theater prop… but not an ethnographic artifact. Bob, MasksoftheWorld

Next day I get the following from Gregory… I did the work last night and found all the information on both masks. They are North Korean lion masks from the Bukcheong sajanoreum. Two lions are part of the Korean play, which is why I have the two matching masks. The lower bar I mentioned acts as the lion’s mouth and teeth.

“The best known of the Korean lion dances is the Bukcheong sajanoreum or lion mask play from Bukcheong. In this dance performers may don five different masks including a huge but comic lion mask. The dance was originally performed every night of first fifteen nights of the lunar New Year, where the dance troupe in lion masks and costumes visited every house in the villages of the Bukcheong region, and the lion dance is meant to expel evil spirits and attract good luck for the coming year. There was also once a court version of the lion dance.” Visit these links for more.

After a mistake by me, Gregory quickly did some research and came up with all the correct info. How did he know to focus on Korea? I hope he will tell us with a comment. A


  • Greg Shelton

    I enlisted a close friend to research online with me. She advised me that the facial features felt possibly Korean, after she saw some similarities, but I was stuck on the colors of the yard (hair) and thought Portuguese or Haitian carnival masks… We both recognized though that the masks seemed to have whiskers on the lower portion and we couldn’t move away from the red/black color scheme and the obvious Asian features in the eyes. Later I realized that what I thought were “eyebrows” actually were cat ears and what I thought was some sort of bar handle in the masks back, was actually the lower jaw of the Lion and used to snap and bite during the theatrical performance. The great thing about them is that the historical North Korean masks are used and performed with two Lions and I own the matching set.

  • Bob Ibold

    Here is what Greg just told me…

    I enlisted the help of a close friend and antique/oddity collector to research anything she could come up with them. She came back with a couple thoughts of Korean inspirations from the masks facial features and I also agreed that they have an East Asian feeling with the deep red color and the eye depth. I was also stuck with the color of the hair as it seemed very Portuguese Carnival mask-like. But, we both felt that there was a chance it emulated a feline look with the possibility of facial whiskers. Then it hit me, the “hair” was actually more of a “mane” and that lead me to consider it being a “lion”. Of course once I tied “Korea” – “Lion” – “Mask” – “Theater” together, the Lion Mask Play from Bukcheong or the “Bukcheong.
    Sajanoreum” immediately leapt from the page. The strange “bars” attached to the back were painted to match the lower jaw (w/teeth) and I then realized it was made to be part of the theater action as it bites and snaps! I’m so happy to own both matching masks as the theater production of the Korean Lion Play always includes two lions.

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