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Copyright 2009-2010 by
Mary Brotherton
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Inside my Brain

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Saturday, February 25, 2006

Make Your own Ceremonial or Decorative Masks for Free

All around the globe, people have been creating unique masks to be used for ceremonies, celebrations, and disguises. For more than 800 years, The Republic of Venice held a position of unrivaled superiority as the most extravagant and most beautiful state in Europe. During this time, every citizen enjoyed a high standard of living with unparalleled social wealth. Venetians developed a very unique culture, including the need to conceal their identities during daily activities. With a city as small as Venice, the masks kept the citizens on an equal social field, and allowed people to speak freely without fear of retribution.

Masks are an ancient means of changing identity and assuming a new persona.

This anonymity led to decadence, indolence, and moral decay. Eventually, citizens could only wear masks during certain months of the year, and were banned from wearing the masks during daily activities. Still, today, the masks of Venice are treasured as art, and collected by people around the world. Ornately gilded in gold or silver, and embellished with elaborate plumes, beads, and ribbons, the Venetian masks can be worn or held before the eyes on a stick which is often as artistic as the masks themselves.

The Native Alaskan Yup’ik or “Real People” have created masks for even longer. Much simpler in design than the Venetian masks, the Yup’ik masks also had feathers, but the feathers were much more symbolic than decorative, and each mask had a specific number of feathers for a precise reason. Carved from wood, bone, or shaped from seal skins, the colors and markings on Yup’ik masks are also symbolic. The ancient Yup’ik masks were used in prayer, and today are used to help teach the culture’s past to the youth of today.

Different kinds of animals were the Native Alaskan’s helping spirits; so many Yup’ik masks depict those animal spirits. For many generations, over the long winter dark periods, the men used the masks for dance ceremonies and storytelling.

The Africans believe that to wear a mask and its associated vestment was to conceal one's own identity in the guise of another. Ceremonies marked transitions when outside powers were invoked to aid in human affairs. African masks were quite often used in funeral ceremonies, and masks worn in these solemn occasions were unmistakable in appearance.

American culture does not restrict who may or who may not wear masks, but in traditional African culture, only men wore masks, although the mask itself could be male or female. If permitted to see the masks at all, women were required to keep at a safe distance, since masks were considered extremely dangerous for them. African masks were only created by specialists: carvers, blacksmiths, or ritual specialists.

Masks have been used in ceremonies for nearly every aspect of life in the ancient civilizations of Euphrates, Phoenicia, Egypt, Greece, Japan, Mexico, and are still used in New Guinea’s initiation ceremonies. Nearly every civilization throughout the world has called upon its best artists to create masks, which have often been called a society’s greatest artistic achievement, though the fragile masks have many times been uncovered by accident in archeological sites.

Many masks have been buried with their owners, never intended to be seen by collectors or curators. Today’s modern societies are beginning to understand the power of a mask, and in 1994, Hollywood created a movie which centered on one man’s obsession with the power that wearing a mask provided. Numerous other movies and books have been produced which tend to show a more sinister side to masks, than they were ever intended to portray.

Locally, the Titusville Art League is offering the opportunity for men and women of all backgrounds to come together to create unique and magnificent, marvelous masks. On Wednesday, March 8th, from 6:30pm to 8:30pm, the Art League will open its doors to local mask makers, and will have local artists on hand to help with technical issues or as advisors. The Art League will provide free supplies and refreshments, but people are encouraged to bring their own specialty or symbolic embellishments and craft supplies.

The Titusville Art League is limiting the Mask Workshop to persons older than 15, and since space is somewhat limited, will accept the first 30 people who call to reserve a space, or who come early enough for a space. The Art League is located at 1421 Draa Road, in Titusville.

To learn more about the Titusville Art League, visit their website at

To reserve your space at the Free Mask Workshop, or to get more information, call 321-269-2507.