Magazine article Arts & Activities

Masks of Fur and Hide

Magazine article Arts & Activities

Masks of Fur and Hide

Article excerpt

Maine's winter snow and ice inspired me to consider the lifestyle of the limit people of Alaska. My small town of Brunswick is home to the Peary-Macmillan Arctic Museum at Bowdoin College, which provided the opportunity for my students to see examples of the actual mask-making traditions of this indigenous group.

Masks among these peoples served a variety of functions. Despite some similarities in the various communities, it is difficult to generalize how they used masks. The foods, mythologies, soul concepts, even the languages are often different. Nonetheless, the concept of unity of human and animal is reflected in the masked person.

STUDENTS STARTED THE PROJECT with plastic multicultural face forms, which they draped with two or three layers of torn brown paper dipped in papier-mache paste, which represented the native use of caribou hide. The following day, I used a sharp knife to cut out the eye and mouth openings, then students added a thin wash of acrylic paint to the masks, to suggest the color of the natural tanning process.

Male and female masks were differentiated through the use of fringes of faux fur (from old coats found at our local thrift store) in varying lengths and color to represent facial hair, bangs, eyebrows and other details. Lastly, students used "tacky" glue to attach pieces of faux fur to suggest a face peeking out of the ruff of a parka.

IT IS IMPORTANT TO NOTE that in some cultures, certain masks are sacred and secret ceremonial objects, to be viewed only by the initiates of that culture. …

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