Bali & Java

Old Java mask with nice patina

Q:  We bought the two golden masks from a large online dealer last year for fifteen dollars each.  Some research indicated that the black mask which we have had for over two years now was from Bali in Indonesia.  But that is all we know.  The large golden mask is seven and a half inches high by 6 inches wide..  I am attaching photos including the mask I already sent, and front and back views of the other two masks.  Thanks for the prompt reply and your interest.  Robert, 1426
A:  I like all three of your masks, but this one, a female character from Topeng dance drama, is my favorite. It is a popular mask made by a village mask-maker, not a high-end professional. What makes it nice is that that the years of usage and repainting have left it with a rich patina. The word patina, if we are talking about ethnographic masks or other kinds of tribal art, means aging in an attractive way. Unfortunately, we frequently see aging that has been done artificially to make the mask appear to be older than it is, which is important to both tourists and amateur collectors. That piece of black rubber on the back is for biting down on to hold the mask against the dancer’s face.
Mask makers from all over the world do colorful masks for their fellow villagers to use for ceremony or dance. And they also make a lot for sale to tourists and collectors, for which they usually can get a much higher price. I think most of us would do the same if we lived in a third-world country.
Let’s not forget that masks made for sale can be worth collecting, especially if a lot of time is devoted to carve and decorate the piece. It’s a shame that most mask on eBay are carved quickly, then antiqued to make them look old. Try to avoid those kinds of items… even in a thrift shop or garage sale.  A

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