Category Archives: masks

Found mask

I came across this mask in a parking lot. It’s actually one of those cardboard drink carriers that had been run over repeatedly by cars and looked exactly like this when I found it.


I tried inking it and running it through a press, but I think I actually like the original untouched find better.


Halloween inspiration

A few years back, I was lucky enough to stumble onto a fantastic gallery show of photographs by Phyllis Galembo. Galembo documents traditional African and Haitian masquerade ceremonies. Her subjects use costume, body paint, and masks to create mythic characters. Galembo’s 2010 book, Maske, is a gorgeous collection of these photographs.

Cover: Akata Masquerade, Nigeria 2004

The photos in the book were taken in Zambia, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Benin, Sierra Leone, Ghana, and Haiti. Galembo includes explanations of the ceremonies and rituals documented, as well as descriptions of her experiences taking the photos. Looking at this book makes me wish that Halloween wasn’t the only masquerade day in our culture. It was difficult to pick out my favorites! Check out this beautiful book for many more.

Chileya (Wise Male Ancestor), Likishi Masquerade, Zambia 2007

Panther, Dodo Masquerade, Burkina Faso 2009

Bwa Plank Masks, Burkina Faso 2006

Children’s Dodo Masquerade, Burkina Faso 2009

Otoghe-Toghe Masquerade, Nigeria 2005

Ngar Ball Traditional Masquerade Dance, Nigeria 2004

Mango leaves, Minor Ekpe Masquerade, Nigeria 2005

Ko S’ogbon L’Ate (You Can’t Buy Wisdom at the Market), Gelede Masquerade, Benin 2006

Ologodu Masquerade, Sierra Leone 2008

Ringo (Big Deer) Masquerade, Sierra Leone 2008

Three in Fancy Dress with Wire Masks, Anchors Masquerade Group, Ghana 2010

Four Children in Fancy Dress, Nobles Masquerade Group, Ghana 2009

Three Painted Boys, Haiti 2004

Lasiren with Marie Rose (Man with Snakes), Haiti 2004

Grocery bag masquerade

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the great artist Saul Steinberg collaborated with photographer Inge Morath on a project called the Saul Steinberg Mask Series. Steinberg produced paper bag masks and Morath took portraits of friends wearing them. The photos are such great fun because the masks were so whimsical but were worn by very respectably dressed, anonymous models. The juxtaposition of Steinberg’s playful style and Morath’s straightforward reporting made for a series that is so funny, masterly, brilliant.

The photos were published in a book released in 2000 called Masquerade. Here are some photos from the series:

Artist and children’s art teacher Jean Frank Stark introduced young students to the Saul Steinberg Mask Series. The kids then created their own masks, with fantastic results. Stark then asked the young artists to make gestures to match their faces. What a great project! You can watch a slide show of their poses here.

Tomorrow: Brown paper fiber fest!

Family tree

One thing I’ve loved about having an art therapy practice is the way the creative inspiration flows both ways between my clients and me. It’s a real give and take. The materials, process, themes explored, and energy generated always seem to hand me some kind of gift.

In a previous post, I wrote about a mask project at a foster care agency picnic. In preparation for that project, I spray-painted about a hundred pre-made paper mâche masks on top of some scrap cardboard. (An aside about process: The masks, available to buy here, are made from brown craft paper, and I thought it would be a good idea to give people a clean white canvas to work on. For later mask-making, I skipped the spray painting prep and found that it was unnecessary with most materials, the big exception being the much-loved Sharpie markers, which look dull on the brown.)

white masks


When I finished spraying, I realized that I actually had a lot of new canvasses that would be as much fun to fool around with as the actual masks. So I cut some up and played around.




Eventually, I did a larger piece incorporating red-painted twigs and a nest. I called it Family Tree because it seemed like it could be about all my mysterious ancestors, Eastern Europeans whose children (my grandparents) fled the old country. Sadly, somewhere along that journey the stories of those old country ancestors were lost, never to be known to the younger generations on their family tree. Even though I know nothing about them, I feel that they somehow have a lot to do with who I am, and their hazy images found expression in those pieces of junk cardboard.

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At an annual picnic for a therapeutic foster care unit, foster children, their bio and foster siblings, all generations of foster families, and all unit staff members come together for a day of fun: swimming, horse rides, baseball, barbeque, and a community art project for all ages. This is art therapy in a different sense, an art project that’s a fun and healing happening. In this particular unit, the children fare better when they work individually, so this year each person there is given a paper mâche mask to paint and decorate.



The resulting masks, each one highly unique, are hung on a wall, gallery-style, in the front window of the agency in midtown Manhattan. Children coming to agency appointments proudly lead others to see their work and admire the work of others. Staff members regularly comment that it makes their day to see the masks as they pass them going into work. Passersby are so taken with the masks that they come in off the street to ask if they are for sale. They are tangible works of beauty, and everyone who participates or witnesses the works knows that they are also a triumph of something much bigger.



Children in foster care commonly struggle with extreme feelings of isolation, with the feeling that they are different, that they are not a part of the world. Seeing their work as part of a whole can be a very powerful experience. Community art events have the potential to create a culture of fun, acceptance, and accomplishment. A group project can be a metaphor for a community that shares space and supplies; that helps neighbors with support, encouragement, suggestions, or an extra hand; that values the contributions of all. Community members experience real joy in seeing the beauty of a communal creation that has been assembled from their individual contributions.