Sunday, November 06, 2005
Spirit Faces Book review
Another of my favourite books is Spirit Faces.
Spirit Faces, by Gary Wyatt
Thames and Hudson
£ 12.95 in the UK.
If you love, as I do, West Coast North American native masks this is an essential book to have. It is a collection of colour photographs of modern mask with a brief commentary on each.
The introduction gives a brief background to the area, history and revival of the arts of this area. You may or may not, know that the art and culture of this area was severely repressed. At times brutally and cruelly. The revival began with exhibitions in the 1940's.
Now there is a thriving art world in this area using traditional forms and themes developing as the artists realise new ambitions.
The rest of the book is divided into three sections
Clan and Crest Masks
Shaman and Transformation Masks
Followed by biographical notes on each artist.
The book features 23 contemporary artists including
To name but a few.
Each one of the 75 vibrant photographs is supported by comments from the artist. It helps the reader, giving insight into the mind of the artist and his thoughts on his work.
If you don't have this book in your collection check it out and see what I mean. I'm sure it will become a favoured feature of your book collection.
Mask Buying in Italy
I came back from my trip to Italy and the Tuscany region recently. Wow! the place has some of the most remarkable buildings and works of art the world possesses.
Dot, my wife, and I visited the city of Florence, surely the home of the Renaissance. The hotel we stayed in overlooked the dome of the Cathedral. The dome designed and overseen by Bruneleschi himself. The same city where Leonardo and Michaelangelo produced some of their great works. As you visit the galleries, despite the queues, you really begin to understand the revolution that happened in this area. A revolution in thought and expression that we are still resolving today. I have never studies the Renaissance, my wife Dot has, but being in this environment the power of it really hits home.
Leonardo has always been my hero. The man who could create wonderful art, develop wonderful engineering and architectural projects, plus study life sciences, anatomy, to be able to understand his work better. The mans demands upon himself to gain the understanding and the knowledge of how life works were brilliant. I would love to have spent just one day in this mans presence. What would I have learned?
I have not expressed my excitement particularly well. For me the place vibrates with the birth of the processes we use today for art and science. If you ever have the chance then please visit Florence and this part of Italy.
Not only the art but the food and hospitality are good too. And I just love the coffee.
Some of you will know of the traditions in Italy of both Leather and Papier Mache mask making.
One of our group, Dimitri, asked me to check out the supplier of a type of blue paper that he uses in his mask making. He uses it in one of the layers of construction of the papier mache. There are few suppliers and one is in Florence. He also mentioned Alice Masks, whom he had studied with, also in Florence. I set of to visit both.
I am going to get Dimitri to tell us about his work soon.
We had limited time in Florence but I intended to fit this quest in come what may. Our Hotel was in the centre of the city so places should be easy to find. But of course no one had told me about the blue and red numbers. You may well ask, "The blue and red numbers?!"
I noticed as I was walking along these heavily shaded narrow streets, flanked by the most amazing buildings, some dating back to the 14th century, that the were two colours of numbers. Some were red and some were blue. Within a street there are red numbers and blue numbers for buildings, some on the same buildings. For instance a building may be 28 blue and 64 red. I have no idea how the post men cope.
I eventually I found Alice Masks. In the early evening, it was closed despite the shop sign saying it should be open until 7:30. Disappointment one.
Next I searched for the mask makers supplies shop. Fortunately it was just around the corner from our Hotel. I eventually found it after a wonderful toy shop owner told me about red and blue numbers. Guess what they had closed that very day at lunch time for their annual holidays. Failed in both endeavours.
Next day we had various things planned. I wanted to try Alice masks before we set off on our visits. Dot came with me. The shop was open and the quality of the masks is fantastic. The designs are wonderful. The prices reflect the quality. I could have bought so many. If you ever visit allow yourself at least 100 euros. I found myself overwhelmed for choice. I just could not decide. We decided to visit the sites that we had planned to and I would visit to Alice Masks later as Dot shopped in the wonderful Italian fashion shops. The Quality of leather goods in this place is fantastic.
Do you believe in syncronisity, or providence? Well here is my story.
You may know or not that I collect masks, generally tribal masks. For my second visit to Alice mask I decided to follow my general sense of direction and not the local map. I have a very good sense of direction and sometimes get lost but generally can correct myself and get back on track. Guess what I got lost!
But I have always believed that getting lost is actually a way of finding new things or places. When you are lost new things are revealed. So there I was in the middle of Florence in the middle of a street market. The usual stalls. Then I passed something interesting. An African stall with carvings and things. However at the back of the stall I caught site of a Sierra Leone Mende mask. It looked to be of poor quality but I need a second look.
The stall holder recognising my interest began to show me several old, danced African masks. Strangely he seemed to have very little real understanding of his wares. The Mende mask he told me was 150 years old. Doubtful, as it was of low quality and from a very light wood. Plus it was damaged and repaired. He wanted 400 euros for it. No chance. Several of his older masks were damaged and were not of the quality that I like. For me the quality of the craftsmanship comes first.
I noticed a female Yohure mask, from The Ivory Coast and immediately fell in love with it.
Now I only had 4 more hours in Florence so had to apply my fast price reduction process.
The stall holder thought that I wanted the Mende mask. He wanted 180 Euros for the mask I wanted, we also had places to see and visit and then a train to catch about 4pm.
I made my second visit to Alice masks, realising that I could buy at any time on line. But still enjoying the quality of the shop and the masks. Getting lost was such a great move! Sometimes I just love getting lost for you never know what you will find.
I met Dot again and she bought a wonderful bright red leather hand bag. I learned a new trick from the Australian shop owner. She suggested I clean and restore my lovely old Colombian much travelled, leather, bag with Nivea. That's right the hand cream!
By now I had decided. I was going to buy the mask. I returned intending to pay 100 Euros.
However time and other factors intervened. We settled on 140. A happy stall holder and a happy me. She is now hanging on my office wall.
The other thing I did during my holiday, of note, was to read a book by an artist, Jerry Wennstrom, called the Inspired Heart. It tells of a spiritual / mental journey. As an artist he gave away his belongings and burnt his paintings. Then spent a decade or more travelling into his own spiritual space whist existing in New York.
I will be doing an interview with Jerry in a future news letter. He has some fundamental things to say on life, art, spirit, mask and spiritual journeys. Stay tuned and all will be revealed.
Sunday, July 24, 2005
Starting to Collect Masks
"I have visited many countries where masks were made. How could I start a retrospective collection?"
This, of course, is in the context of tribal and ethnic masks.
This raises several questions in my mind.
Do you want old, new or reproduction masks? To explain.
Old masks are what excite most collectors as they are what are often called "Danced masks." Meaning that they were used for their original purpose in their tribe or community.
A new mask could be one made by a traditional carver to high local standards and intended to be used for its original purpose but bought by a collector instead. Such as buying an original Noh mask from the carver.
Reproduction masks are simply copies made for tourists. Some of which are the result of very high quality craftsmanship some are not.
Some people collect masks for the love of it others for both that and investment. Good, old, danced masks from some areas that are rare can fetch $100,000+. Other good old masks can be bought for $90 upwards. It depends upon what you want and how much you have to spend. That of course is one of the major questions.
Another question that comes to mind is do you want a themed collection? Or is it just a collection to remind you of the place that you have visited?
Where would I start to look?
Tribal art galleries are a good place to begin your search. But be warned their mark-up can be very high. There are lots of places to visit on the web, I'll list a few later. Also visit some of the on-line museums, see the back list of newsletters for a few. (link below).
The one thing that all collectors will tell you is collect for the love of it. I have masks that fit all categories. This is a result of using many of my masks in an educational and creative arts setting. For instance I will use my masks in school for workshops and for working with teachers. Having high quality masks in these settings is not always appropriate.
But the masks I display at home are all of some quality, either through carving or age.
The other thing is to cultivate contacts.
One danger! Asking friends to bring masks back from holiday. If you do this ensure that you friend has a FULL understanding of your needs. Don't expect them to have your patience or knowledge. If it does not work, gratefully thank them and display their purchase until you change your collection around again.
One last thing always be prepared to haggle. Remember a good price for you maybe well be a very inflated price to the seller. That is both in the context of galleries and in local markets. Some places it is anticipated that you will bargain for a good price and make it fun.
I once spent a whole week on holiday bargaining for a masks. Finally on the last day of my vacation I went to the stall holder and said "I have 300 pesos left and am leaving today. Do you want to sell?" We made the sale at less than half his original asking price.
Don't always go for conventional ways of buying. With galleries ask to reserve a piece and pay in instalments until you have made the purchase price.
Another rule of thumb. If you are somewhere for only a short time and see a mask that you like. Offer the best price you can and if you really like it buy it, even if feels a little too much. If you don't buy then there have to be no regrets. I find in situations like this there is a feeling that I get. It will feel right or not quite right. Trust your feelings.
Finally to authenticity with old masks this comes through experience. Look at and handle as many old masks as you can. The wear at the back of a masks often gives the most clues. Masks used regularly are often bashed about and will show signs of wear and repair. Don't let such factors put you off.
As your knowledge develops so will your ability to judge masks.
One final last word. All my important masks have a story. Each one came from some place or was a gift or the result of something, whatever, they each have a resonance for me.
Enjoy your collecting.
To look at back issues go to www.mask-and-more-masks.com/Inside_the_mask-backissues.html
© Ian Bracegirdle 2005 1 Elderberry Close East Morton BD20 5WA UK 01535 692207
http://mask-and-more-masks.com You may use this article freely on condition that you include this copyright line and URL and that people who subsequently use this article follow the same conditions. Thank you for accepting these conditions.
How to Disguise Yourself
"Ian I would like to disguise myself for a couple of days. Can you suggest a way to go about it?"
Well, when I was young I used to mess about with a friend and create horrible wounds on our faces and bodies. We were not very sophisticated and used water paints. The effect on neighbours was initially very good. However it was short lived. They soon recognised our pranks.
In answer to the above question may I add an anecdote.
Some time ago I was teaching at a middle school in a large village just outside my home town. I began learning Neuro Linguistic Programming techniques that spring. Each weekend for 10 weeks I received some training. At times it was very intense, challenging and life changing. One session I felt that my whole being had made a significant shift. So much so that I felt my mind and body were somehow out of tune for a few days.
The strange thing was other people noticed.
Just over the road from the school was a traditional bakers. It sold wonderful pastries, bread and cakes. One of my favourites was the Cornish pasty. Often on a Monday I would buy one for my lunch. This June day I set off for the usual indulgence. The lady behind the counter said as she served me "Oh you have shaved off your moustache." "Yes," I replied, "I shaved it off before Christmas."
Why had it taken her 6 months to notice?
You know when people see someone they know they don't actually see them. They see the image that they have inside their heads. Only when something really is different do they see what is in front of them.
You know that feeling of looking at a friend and feeling something is not quite right, but you don't know what. Maybe they have changed their hair style yet it fails to fully register.
Disguise can make use of these facts. A person has a preconceived image of another and works to that. If you present yourself in front of them looking significantly different in one main way they will see the new image with out the old.
My advise was to seek out a local make up expert. Someone at a local amateur theatre company could help. Also look on Amazon or Barnes and Noble under stage makeup or disguise. Public libraries are also invaluable when doing research. Also try www.frightcatalogue.com or similar companies for prosthetics, false noses etc., made out of latex. You could even construct your own. Wigs are also a good place to start from.
Some useful books:
Stage Makeup Step-By-Step by Rose Marie Swinfield at $23.99
Disguise Techniques by Edmund A. MacInaught at $18.00
But please don't expect me to help as my expertise is not in this area.
Tuesday, May 24, 2005
The Shaman of Trois Freres
The caves at Trois Freres in France hold some fascinating images. This is a brief discussion around those paintings. What was their significance?
Cave paintings hold a powerful fascination. They are one of our most direct ways of touching our ancestors. Those men and women who lived by primitive means would have been more aware of the world around them than we are. The nature of their lives would have caused them to be more in touch with seasons and the patterns of life. Life and death depended upon their knowledge of food supplies and seasonal variations Was this the reason for the cave paintings?
Deep into the Trois Freres ( Three Brothers ) Caves in France the visitor can see vague ancient images of figures and animals. One of these figures in particular has attracted international attention. Many believe it to be one of the first depictions of a shaman.
When I first saw the images from these caves in France I was stunned by their graphic nature. The pictures of cattle and other beasts that surround the central figure high up on the cave roof are vague now but skilfully drawn.
The central figure is about 2 and ½ feet or 70 cm tall. His appearance is strange, part animal part human. On his head are deer's antlers, probably reindeer, his mask has owl eyes below this there appears to be a long beard. His hands are hidden inside lion or bear paws. The back is shaped like that of an animal, is he wearing an animal sin? The tail is that of a fox covering his erect penis.
My copy of the Animal Master is on the web site http://www.mask-and-more-masks.com/The-Shaman-of-Trois-Freres.html.
Around this figure there are many comments and speculations as to its true nature. It is general accepted that he is a figure in a mask and animal disguise. That he has some spiritual / magical significance to the animals surrounding him makes sense. It is also widely thought that he is a shaman.
Below the shaman there is a plethora of animals drawn over figure the top of each other. Almost like a sketch pad. I know at times I draw in this manner. I try forms and shapes sometimes they flow from the pencil at other times it seems much harder to achieve the effect that I want. As I scribble the page becomes full of overlapping images too busy to cope with. Ideas and notation. A place to be returned to in the future for a captured image to be reworked.
But that's me and perhaps many other modern day artists. What of the artist in the dark of those caves? These images created, was it 14,000 years ago, or longer? Who really knows?
Can we assume that these artist of the paleolithic period were not of the same mind set as now? Art for us is a process of recording, expression, a reflection of our inner nature and sometimes of the divine. What were these artist expressing or communicating?
Lets accept one thing before I continue in this vein. It would seem that some natural talent was used by the artist in these times as the quality of painting and use of line shows to us. Often the figures were enhanced by colour sprayed through a tube, the paint blown from the mouth. Were these artists part of the magical process or were they paid in some way? Did they come from within the tribe or from elsewhere? Was it the Shaman who created the art for his own rituals?
Most of these questions are impossible to answer. What is possible is to use the knowledge that we have of tribal peoples and their traditions.
The shaman or healer or priest / holy man / woman is a figure still in existence today in some cultures. In fact the shamanic knowledge is being handed on to certain members of Western cultures. Shamanic practices have been well documented by anthropologists over the last 150 years.
The shamanic practices through out the world have several features in common. The shaman is a link to the spirit world. By going into a trance the shaman enters the other world and communicates with the spirits of animals or ancestors. These spirit guides help the shaman to resolve problems for individuals or whole groups. The spirit world is divided into three sections
Middle Earth where we live The Underworld land of spirits and the dead The Upperworld the place of Gods and Guardians
To reach a state of trance the shaman has several methods, dance, meditation and drugs being the main ones. When he enters the other world the shaman seeks his spirit guide to help him resolve his quest.
In these early times as in more recent recorded events the shaman would communicate with the spirits f the animals who, would or had been killed. Keeping a balance to the order of nature was necessary. At times of shortage he would communicate with the spirits to help him bring food to his people. At times of drought he would sing for rain.
This still does not answer the question as to why these pictures are there hidden deep in a dark cave away from prying eyes. As the shaman enters trance he begins the journey into the underworld the cave could well represent that journey. The pictures on the walls are the images seen on the journey. This could simply be a way of recording a spirit journey. A way to hold the images. It could even be used as a teaching device for new initiates. Perhaps this is why there so many overlapping animals.
Can you imagine the impact of such paintings on the uninitiated visiting the cave. In the dim light the images would have been clearer and brighter than today. The shaman could well have been dressed as the picture. The drum would be beating. Incense could well be burning. Certainly a great setting in which to induce hallucinatory experiences, or if you prefer, induce the beginning of a journey into the spirit world.
There are many other depictions of what have been called Animal Masters in caves around Europe and Asia. They link with the antlered and horned figures of Nordic mythology and Pan in Greek mythology. Whatever the true explaination is you can allow your imagination to run over the possibilities and no doubt add to my speculation.
Biblography Van James Spirit and Art: Paleo-shamanic Iconography See
George Frazer The golden Bough
Nevill Drury The Shaman and The Magician
Michael Harner The Way of the Shaman
©Ian Bracegirdle 2005
You may use this article freely on condition that you include this copyright line and URL and that people who subsequently use this article follow the same conditions. Thank you for accepting these conditions.
Ian Bracegirdle 1 Elderberry Close East Morton BD20 5WA UK.01535 692207
Thursday, May 05, 2005
What does this strange bodiless head represent? Why does his face look at you from the pillars and doorways of ancient churches? What is he doing in our cavernous cathedrals? And believe it, or not, he can even be found on the walls of New York and Chicago banks.
Versions of the same face can be found all over the world
Keep your eyes open when visiting some of the old English churches for the images of the Green Man. Why does this Pagan figure exist in Christian churches and Cathedrals?
Would you like a description of the face? Usually it is carved in wood or stone. Sometimes it is high up on the roof supports or pillars. Occasionally it is hidden from sight. In other places it is carved on the end of pews. Some churches have several.
The strange face is generally wreathed in greenery, leaves all around his head. Often the branches spew out from his mouth and twist about him in a symmetrical pattern. The leaves appear to be of different types, oak, ivy etc. Sometimes he has bunches of fruit on his foliage.
If you get to visit some of the traditional European Midsummer festivals watch out for the green leafed figure. He is still around today.
Just what the Green Man represents is not clear to us in this age. Being green and covered in leaves we can assume something to do with fertility. Or can we? The following is a brief exploration of this phenomena.
Did you ever watch the film The Wicker Man. It is a strange low budget, British, film set on one of the Scottish Islands. The story revolves around the building of a mid summer wicker man to burn and celebrate the Solstice. Human sacrifice is also a feature of the story.
The story relates back to ancient pre Christian times when sacrifices were made to the gods at mid summer. The green man also comes from these times. He appears to represent the rebirth.
One of the sources that I have used is the Golden Bough by Sir James George Frazer. In it he mentions the Green Wolf and similar festivals. These take place in Scandinavian counties. During the election and initiation of the Green Wolf he and his fellow would dance around a fire. Another part of the occasion would involve capturing Green Wolf and pretending to throw him into the bonfire.
These reflect back to the Celtic traditions of burning a human sacrifice in the mid summer bonfire. The wood used for this was Oak. A timber considered as sacred in ancient traditions.
So when the Green Man appears in festivals such as seen at Urnash in Switzerland. His leafed mask and costume reach back to the Celtic fertility rites. He represents the magic of the tree, rebirth and sacrifice.
The Bodiless Green Man in the church was an effigy taken by the Christian church from the powerful pagan celebrations and brought in to the building as a way to appease the converts. That he has been used in the banks shows how this figure now represents the fertility of money and commerce. Would those ancients who set the whole thing in motion approve?
As I have said before you can speculate long and hard on these ancient links to our everyday life. To follow up the brief discourse here visit.
www.mikeharding.co.uk/greenman/greenindex.html Mike is an English folk singer and teller of very funny stories. His site has some interesting details.
Here you can see the photos of Nigel Rushbrook of Green Men in the South West of the UK.
The Quest for the Green Man by John Matthews ISBN 0-8356-0825-5
The Green Man by Kathleen Bastford
Also if you are really keen on the mythology and practices of the pre Christian era read The Golden Bough by James George Frazier.
Illustrated Isbn 0-7134-8108-0 I recommend this version for a lighter read.
Text version 0-684-82630-5
Ian Bracegirdle is a teacher, course leader and therapist. He is the creator of the site www.mask-and-more-masks.com a site for all interested in masks. Ian is fascinated by the art form of masks as well as the cultural connotations. He has researched many areas of masks and recognise commonlinks in many ancient traditions. He believes our current masking traditions are linked back to the time of shaman and other forms of magic predating monotheist religions.
The earliest masking records are at least 25,000 years old.
© Ian Bracegirdle 2004 1 Elderberry Close East Morton BD20 5WA UK 01535 692207
http://mask-and-more-masks.com You may use this article freely on condition that you include this copyright line and URL and that people who subsequently use this article follow the same conditions. Thank you for accepting these conditions.
Wednesday, May 04, 2005
The Mask and More Masks Site
The whole thing developed from my mask making courses at the Commonwealth Institute in London. The teachers and other students that I taught needed background information. I compiled much of the following for that purpose. Later additons have followed as my knowledge has expanded.
Below is a list of the content and the links that you need to access the site.
I'm Ian Bracegirdle I live in the UK. I would like you to join me in this exploration of mask and more masks. Sign up for the news letter that will be on its way to you in the next few weeks as I build the contacts. As you provide me with thoughts and ideas lets see where we can go........................
©2005 Ian Bracegirdle 1 Elderberry Close East Morton BD20 5WA UK. 01535 692207
Tribal masks and traditions from around the World, Africa, The Americas. Oceania, Asia and Europe
Latex Masks Halloween Masks and Fun Masks
A whole area of great infromation devoted to Latex Masks Halloween Masks and Fun Masks with links to suppliers and mask making techniques
Carnival Masks and Masquerade Masks
Carnival masks and the history of masquerade from the earliest times maybe a bit controvertial
An introduction to American Masks, North South and Central. Including Mexican Masks, Haida Masks, Kwakiutl Masks, Guatemalan Masks
Entertainment Masks information and listings from all sources. These include Theatre Masks, Film Masks, Wrestling Masks, Noh Masks both old and modern.
mask makers and mask making
The place for Mask Makers and those who wish to know about mask making featuring techniques, experts and galleries.
Help Me Please
Contact me page about masks from all over the World, what I know and what I don't know
An introduction to African Masks from many different tribes, including old danced masks, recent masks and decorative masks
About me, why is it that I enjoy masks so much visit me for an exchange of information about masks and related topics
An introduction to European Masks, with consideration of European Masks, Austrian Masks, Hungarian Masks, Swiss Masks, French Masks, Spanish Masks, British Masks their styles and influences
Paper masks, making simple paper face masks using a single piece of paper, use you imagination
An introduction to theatre masks from different times and cultures
An introduction to Party Masks do it yourself or but it that is the question
A Introduction to the traditions of Wrestling masks in UK, Mexico, Japan, USA and other places.
an page that will introduce you to noh masks the history traditions and makers ancient and modern
The Masked Fool
The fool in masking traditions plays a key role organising the watchers and treading that thin line between sane and insane the spiritual and the material
Join our Newsletter
The sign up page for the the mask and more masks newsletter.com
Museums and exhibitions
An upto date list of exhibitions and museums around the world
Reviews of books on masks
Fair Trade Sites for Masks
A page with links and affiliate links to sites selling mask using fair trade guidelines.
About Mask and More Masks Site
A descrition of the mask and more masks site the author and the site structure.
African Masks the Art of Creation
African masks were created for specific purposes. The process of creation was often secret and followed set rituals.
The Shaman of Trois Freres
The caves at Trois Freres contain some of the earliest records of shaman masks.
Tuesday, May 03, 2005
Hello and welcome to the Mask and More Masks Blog
The www.mask-and-more-masks.com site is for people interested in all kinds of mask, ancient, tribal and modern. Take a look.
I will be adding jottings and thoughts to this blog around my interest in masks and mask making.
At the moment I am putting the finishing touches to an article on the Green Man. This figure, sheathed in green leaves, is common in some masquerades. He relates back to pagan festivals but is found in churches and cathedrals around Europe.
Who is he and why is he there?
Where did his body go?
For more on the Green Man keep watching this space.
Isn't Blogging a wonderful idea.
More regular updates to follow on all sorts of interesting Mask subjects.
Watch this space.