Sunday, November 06, 2005


Mask Buying in Italy

Masks Buying Trip 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.

To masks.

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.

I'm on a mask supply buying trip to Florence, because I've been unable to find the absorbant blue paper my mask making instructors in Venice used.

I would love to find out the name (and Aadress?) of the supply house you tracked down.

I've found domestic suppliers for the gommalacca & fish glue, but I'm not having any luck with the paper.

I've tried blotting paper, disposable shop wipes and swiffer inserts, but nothing's quite right.

The latex glue I've found in theatrical supply isn't quite right either.

Any other clues?
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