TITLE: Frank’s Brain Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: North America
COUNTRY: United States of America
ETHNICITY: Mixed
DESCRIPTION: Leather Zombie Mask
MAKER: William Rockwell, Lakewood, Colorado (1989- )
CEREMONY: Halloween
AGE: 2019
MAIN MATERIAL: leather
OTHER MATERIALS: metal grommets; acrylic paint

Halloween is one of the major secular festivals in the United States, celebrated on October 31st each year.  It originated in pre-Christian times, possibly among the ancient Celts, who practiced Samhain in late fall by wearing frightening costumes and lighting bonfires in mid-autumn to scare away ghosts. In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III declared November 1st as a day to honor all the saints collectively. The celebration prior to this All Saints Day became known as All Hallows’ Eve (hence the shortened name, All Hallowe’en, eventually elided to Halloween), and involved many of the same traditions practiced by the Celts.

Halloween formerly had many traditions that varied by region.  In modern and relatively homogenized practice, Halloween generally has three main components: costumed parties, “trick-or-treating,” and haunted houses.  Costumed parties are the modern descendant of social activities designed to honor the saints and create solidarity in the community. Children’s parties typically involved games with prizes, such as bobbing for apples and carving pumpkins and other relatively dry squash into frightening “jack-o-lanterns” with candles inside for illumination.  Adult parties commonly involve less innocent games and elaborate decorations to create a scary mood.

Trick-or-treating is the children’s practice of wearing scary costumes to extort candy and other sweets from neighbors. Like roaming goblins, the monsters visiting the house would demand a treat or threaten to play a nasty trick on the neighbor. The threat is of course a formality, as sharing candy with trick-or-treaters is considered a mandatory practice for friendly and community-spirited neighbors. In modern practice, many children have abandoned the tradition of wearing frightening costumes and have leaned toward fantasy characters such as superheroes, princesses, and fairies.

Haunted houses are a relatively modern innovation.  They may be designed and staffed by volunteers or for profit, and generally take the form of a decrepit mansion haunted by ghosts, mad scientists, monsters, the walking dead, etc. The idea is to inspire terror and wonder in a factually safe environment.

In addition, many Americans celebrate by watching horror movies (the release of which Hollywood times to coincide with the Halloween season), and in some regions, most notably Greenwich Village, Manhattan in New York and Salem, Massachusetts, major costumed parades are organized each year.  In many cities, “zombie walks” composed of masses of costumed zombies have been organized as well.

Popular masks and costumes include devils, zombies, skeletons, vampires, werewolves, mummies, witches, pirates, political figures, and characters from popular culture, such as Frankenstein’s monster. However, Halloween costumes can include almost anything, including inanimate objects and abstractions.  The choice is limited only by the imagination of the masquerader.  Masks and costumes depicting offensive racial stereotypes, popular prior to the 1980s, are no longer widely used.

Click above to watch a documentary about Halloween in the United States.

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TITLE: Black Raven Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: North America
COUNTRY: United States of America
ETHNICITY: Mixed
DESCRIPTION: Leather Black Raven Mask
MAKER: William Rockwell, Lakewood, Colorado (1989- )
CEREMONY: Halloween; Mardi Gras; Fantasy
AGE: 2019
MAIN MATERIAL: leather
OTHER MATERIALS: acrylic paint

Masks of this type are used in a variety of festivities in the United States, including Halloween, Mardi Gras, and at fantasy events such as Comic-Con, FaerieCon, and Renaissance fairs.  They may also be used in theaters for plays calling for disguises.  They are made of formed and tooled leather, colored with acrylic paint.

Click above to watch a documentary about Halloween in the United States.

Click above to watch a short documentary about Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Louisiana in 2019 and 2020.

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TITLE: Kuba Face Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Democratic Republic of Congo
ETHNICITY: Kuba
DESCRIPTION: Face Mask of Unknown Type
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Entertainment; Funeral; Status
AGE: ca. 1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: copper sheet; burlap; cowrie shells; plant fiber; feathers; hardware; string; pigment

The Kuba people inhabit the area south of the Kasai River.  Although the Kuba have some two dozen mask types, those still in use today are mostly the three royal masks, whose use is reserved to those given permission by the quasi-divine king (nyimi). These are danced mainly as a form of entertainment reinforcing the status of the royalty and at chiefly funerals.  The adult initiation (mukanda) masks are now rarely used in Kuba society. This specific mask is of an unknown type.

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TITLE: Mardi Gras Krewe Officer Masks
TYPE: face masks
GENERAL REGION: North America
COUNTRY: United States of America
SUB-REGION: New Orleans, Louisiana
ETHNICITY: Mixed
DESCRIPTION: Pair of Mardi Gras Krewe Officer Masks
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Mardi Gras
AGE: 1950s
MAIN MATERIAL: dyed satin cloth
OTHER MATERIALS: linen; adhesive; stitching

In Catholic practice, Mardi Gras (“Fat Tuesday”) is the last day of celebration of Carnival before the fasting period of Lent. In the United States, the holiday is nowhere more vigorously celebrated than in New Orleans, Louisiana. There, a two-week Carnival season terminating on Mardi Gras is celebrated with parades composed of elaborate costumes and masks, floats, marching bands, all organize by private “krewes” composed of public-spirited citizens dedicated to preserving the Mardi Gras tradition. Krewes tend to have a fairly constant structure of officers, who frequently ride horseback in handsome costumes and draped masks, float riders who chuck “throws,” or small gifts such as plastic beaded necklaces, toys, or mementos (usually with the krewe’s name and insignia) into the cheering crowds, and a guest “king” and “queen” of the krewe.

Mardi Gras in New Orleans is also typically celebrated with formal balls held by the krewes in honor of the king and queen, and to celebrate the season.  Mask wearing among street celebrants is common as well. Traditionally, Mardi Gras masks are made of formed and painted leather, and can represent any character from real life or fantasy.  In modern practice, cheap masks mass manufactured of sequined cloth or paper maché covered in dyed feathers have become common.

These masks are the kind normally worn by officers of the krewe who are charged with organizing the parade every year.  Among the older krewes, the officers ride horses, wearing elaborate headdresses with feathers.  The mask they wear is nearly always a cloth “domino” type mask with a veil over the mouth to allow relatively unimpeded talking and drinking. Other participants, such as float riders and celebrities, may wear similar masks.

In modern times, the masks are usually more elaborately decorated that these, which date from the 1950s.


Click above to watch a short documentary about Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Louisiana in 2019 and 2020.

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TITLE: Halloween Dark Harvest Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: North America
COUNTRY: United States of America
SUBERGION: Hollywood
ETHNICITY: Mixed
DESCRIPTION: “Dark Harvest” Jack-o-Lantern Mask
MAKER: California Costume Collections, Inc., Los Angeles, California
CEREMONY: Halloween
AGE: 1990s
MAIN MATERIAL: foam rubber
OTHER MATERIALS: resin; plastic; paint; elastic straps

Halloween is one of the major secular festivals in the United States, celebrated on October 31st each year.  It originated in pre-Christian times, possibly among the ancient Celts, who practiced Samhain in late fall by wearing frightening costumes and lighting bonfires in mid-autumn to scare away ghosts. In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III declared November 1st as a day to honor all the saints collectively. The celebration prior to this All Saints Day became known as All Hallows’ Eve (hence the shortened name, All Hallowe’en, eventually elided to Halloween), and involved many of the same traditions practiced by the Celts.

Halloween formerly had many traditions that varied by region.  In modern and relatively homogenized practice, Halloween generally has three main components: costumed parties, “trick-or-treating,” and haunted houses.  Costumed parties are the modern descendant of social activities designed to honor the saints and create solidarity in the community. Children’s parties typically involved games with prizes, such as bobbing for apples and carving pumpkins and other relatively dry squash into frightening “jack-o-lanterns” with candles inside for illumination.  Adult parties commonly involve less innocent games and elaborate decorations to create a scary mood.

Trick-or-treating is the children’s practice of wearing scary costumes to extort candy and other sweets from neighbors. Like roaming goblins, the monsters visiting the house would demand a treat or threaten to play a nasty trick on the neighbor. The threat is of course a formality, as sharing candy with trick-or-treaters is considered a mandatory practice for friendly and community-spirited neighbors. In modern practice, many children have abandoned the tradition of wearing frightening costumes and have leaned toward fantasy characters such as superheroes, princesses, and fairies.

Haunted houses are a relatively modern innovation.  They may be designed and staffed by volunteers or for profit, and generally take the form of a decrepit mansion haunted by ghosts, mad scientists, monsters, the walking dead, etc. The idea is to inspire terror and wonder in a factually safe environment.

In addition, many Americans celebrate by watching horror movies (the release of which Hollywood times to coincide with the Halloween season), and in some regions, most notably Greenwich Village, Manhattan in New York and Salem, Massachusetts, major costumed parades are organized each year.  In many cities, “zombie walks” composed of masses of costumed zombies have been organized as well.

Popular masks and costumes include devils, zombies, skeletons, vampires, werewolves, mummies, witches, pirates, political figures, and characters from popular culture, such as Frankenstein’s monster. However, Halloween costumes can include almost anything, including inanimate objects and abstractions.  The choice is limited only by the imagination of the masquerader.  Masks and costumes depicting offensive racial stereotypes, popular prior to the 1980s, are no longer widely used.

This specific mask was mass produced by a high-end Halloween mask producer in California.

For more on 20th century American Halloween costumes, see Phyllis Galembo, Dressed for Thrills: 100 Years of Halloween Costumes and Masquerade (New York: Harry N. Abrams Inc., 2002).

Click above to watch a video about Halloween in the United States.

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TITLE: Devil Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Mexico
SUBREGION: Queretaro
ETHNICITY: Otomí
DESCRIPTION: Diablo (Devil) Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Semana Santa (Holy Week)
AGE: 1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: hardware; goat horns; oil-based paint

During Semana Santa (Holy Week) in the small mountain town of El Doctor, Queretaro, townspeople reenact the Passion of Jesus Christ in a unique manner. Participants wear stiff cloth animal masks, known as fariseos (Pharisees) or judios (Jews) and persecute a person who portrays the torture and crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. The fariseos make jokes and mock Jesus, but in the end are converted to Christianity when Jesus is portrayed as resurrected.  Fariseos tend to resemble animals, implying that the Pharisees are bestial.  This specific mask represents a devil (diablo), who encourages the fariseos.

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TITLE: Fariseo Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Mexico
SUBREGION: Queretaro
ETHNICITY: Otomí
DESCRIPTION: Fariseo (Pharisee) Mask of a Raccoon
MAKER: Unknown maker in El Doctor
CEREMONY: Semana Santa (Holy Week)
AGE: late 1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: linen
OTHER MATERIALS: glue; cotton cloth; ixtle fiber; paint

During Semana Santa (Holy Week) in the small mountain town of El Doctor, Queretaro, townspeople reenact the Passion of Jesus Christ in a unique manner. Participants wear stiff cloth animal masks, known as fariseos (Pharisees) or judios (Jews) and persecute a person who portrays the torture and crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. The fariseos make jokes and mock Jesus, but in the end are converted to Christianity when Jesus is portrayed as resurrected.  Fariseos tend to resemble animals, implying that the Pharisees are bestial.  This specific mask represents a raccoon (mapache).

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TITLE: Rey de Jardineros
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Mexico
SUBREGION: Oaxaca
ETHNICITY: Zapotec
DESCRIPTION: Rey de Jardineros
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Danza de Jardineros
AGE: late 1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: cloth covered in beeswax
OTHER MATERIALS: paint; metal o-rings; cotton string

In many parts of Mexico, indigenous populations reenact the Spanish Reconquista, known as the Danza de los Cristianos y los Moros, usually on holidays in honor of the patron saint of the village. In the Zapotec region of Oaxaca, especially San Bartolo Coyotepec, Zaachila, and Santo Tomás Jalieza, this tradition has a unique style and is known as the Dance of the Gardeners. A group formed of a Christian king and queen, a Moorish king and queen, and various princes, princesses, knights and vassals involving an elaborate plot that ends in a machete fight in which the Christians are victorious and force the Muslims to convert to Catholicism. The ceremony is usually performed at the Fiesta de la Virgén de Rosario on the last Sunday of the year, as well as the 2nd and 8th of January. This specific mask represents the Spanish king.

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TITLE: Korkobi Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Mexico
SUBREGION: Michoacán (Charapán)
ETHNICITY: Purépecha
DESCRIPTION: Korkobi (Corcoví) Mask
MAKER: Victoriano Salgado Morales (1920-2012, Uruapan)
CEREMONY: Danza de los Viejitos
AGE: 1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: maque; plaster

The Korkobi mask (also written in many variations, such as Corcoví and Corcobi) represents a nocturnal bird, which in Purépecha beliefs is considered a sign of ill omen, because its song announces death.  However, the character also represents the sun. The Korkobi dances in the Christmas Eve Danza de los Viejitos (Dance of the Little Old Men) and is primarily used in the small town of Charapán.

In this dance, a female character (Maringuía) represents the moon, the Korkobi represents the sun, the tecolote (owl) the night, and the viejitos (old men) represent the stars dancing for the amusement of the Holy Child.

All the characters in the dance try to get the attention of the Maringuía with shouts and compliments but it is the Korkobi alone who succeeds in courting her.

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TITLE: Reina de Jardineros
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Mexico
SUBREGION: Oaxaca
ETHNICITY: Zapotec
DESCRIPTION: Reina (Queen) de Jardineros
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Danza de Jardineros
AGE: 1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: cloth covered in beeswax
OTHER MATERIALS: paint; metal o-rings; cotton string

In many parts of Mexico, indigenous populations reenact the Spanish Reconquista, known as the Danza de los Cristianos y los Moros, usually on holidays in honor of the patron saint of the village. In the Zapotec region of Oaxaca, especially San Bartolo Coyotepec, Zaachila, and Santo Tomás Jalieza, this tradition has a unique style and is known as the Dance of the Gardeners. A group formed of a Christian king and queen, a Moorish king and queen, and various princes, princesses, knights and vassals involving an elaborate plot that ends in a machete fight in which the Christians are victorious and force the Muslims to convert to Catholicism. The ceremony is usually performed at the Fiesta de la Virgén de Rosario on the last Sunday of the year, as well as the 2nd and 8th of January. This specific mask represents the Spanish queen.

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