Q: I purchased a hand carved wooden mask in a lot at auction. It appears quite sinister. I am not well versed in masks but after a little research it looks similar to masks from Indonesia (Bali). My wife detests it and doesn’t want me bringing it in our house. Can you assist me in identifying this mask? John, 1023
A: It is a character from the traditional dance dramas of Indonesia, probably made somewhere on the main island of Java, west of Bali. Most serious collectors, such as myself, would agree with your wife. The mask was quickly carved and painted to begin with, then, purposely or accidentally, ruined. It was made to sell to gullible tourists after being told it was a valuable antique.
Here are some rules to follow if you can’t get the advice of an expert. Does it still attract the eye despite its “old age?” Does it seem to have been carefully carved and painted before the wear and tear occurred? Don’t buy masks that look like they were left outside for a year. Disregard statements that start off “The guy said it was…” Finally, don’t hesitate to ask the Mask Man. Just take a quick pic with your smart phone and send it in to MasksoftheWorld. I may be able to get back to you in time.