East Asia

New Guinea mask

Sepik River area
Sepik River area

Q:  I’m interested in selling this. I inherited this mask many years ago and never displayed it.  I was told it was from Sepik River, New Giunea, with an origin date of 1800’s to early 1900’s. Let me know.  Thanks, David, 718

A:  Sepik River area of Papua New Guinea is the correct location for the location of its manufacture, but the accuracy of the origin date is very unlikely. Contact with the indigenous people of PNG doesn’t start until the middle 20th century. I seriously doubt if this mask is very old, however you can ask a specialist in Oceanic art for an opinion, wait for one of our readers to comment, or just hang it on the wall and enjoy its primitive beauty.  B


  • Nate

    I too, seriously doubt the age of this mask. I could go on about the forensics of why I think that, but I’d rather not divulge all my secrets. I’ve never seen this particular style and in that way its rare in its uniqueness, but not much more. I can comment on the fact that Oceanic Art is highly trafficked with knock-offs, tourist items, and other fake-tiques. I’ve once owned a piece, stated to be vintage from the 1950s, but upon ownership realized the piece as a modern reproduction. I then watched with glee, shock, and disbelief as that very piece was sold by me for $30 as a knock-off, then sold by my buyer for $75, and finally again by a “Fine-Arts” gallery for $700…

  • Chris

    Haha, thanks Nate for this illuminating example of ‘To Be Or Not To Be’. Humans really have an affinity to see what they want to see and to know what they just believe is the case…wanna sell a mask? Just tell a good story! In matter of masks, maybe the best thing to do in order to know if it is really authentic and of certain origin or not is to carve a mask oneself (and I can tell you its great pleasure) 😉
    Greets and a happy new (mask) year

  • Nate

    Happy New Year Chris.

    I’ve been watching several Japanese wood carving knives for sale for a long time. Its my big dream to start taking up carving once my home is an empty nest. That said, I did try out making masks from leather in the same way that those from Mexico are done… and that quickly taught me a lot of things… including how difficult it is to master that craft. I have a new found appreciation for some of those vintage leather masks that I still own and wish I still owned several finer examples that were previously sold! Its definitely not easy. Where did you get your carving set? What country’s styles do you gravitate towards? I think from birth my hands want to mimic German, Austrian, Lithuanian styles… but my eyes wish I could create Japanese style masks… Ichii-itto-bori style…

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