Why I Don’t Have Masks on My Walls

The masks in my collection are from all over the world: Africa, Japan, Korea, Italy, Bali, Mexico, First Nations masks from Canada and the U.S. Many of these masks are used in ritual and story telling. They partake of the shamanistic power invoked in their cultures. In contemporary North America, we only find masks worn on Halloween or on our favorite superheroes.

When we encounter masks from a deep tradition, however, we must meet them with grace and reverence. Each has a spirit and a soul, placed there by the artist that created it. That spirit lives continually in the mask, waiting to be released by the wearer as he/she revives and reawakens it. Call it a rebirth of the spirit that is always there.


We are never so rude or unfeeling as to place a mask face down on any surface. It’s disrespectful and hurtful to the character living within. And Commedia artists who have played a mask during a performance will hold it at their side as they take their bow: performer and mask together.

My mentor Carlo said one day, simply in passing, that the Commedia masks are made from leather, the skin of a living creature, and we must breathe life into the mask to bring the creature to life as well as the ‘creature’ created by the artist. It’s a kind of reverence or respect that the heat and sweat of our faces and the breath we expel inside the mask also breathes life into the character.

These are not decorative objects, to hang on a wall.

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