TITLE: Halloween Owl Mask and Costume
TYPE: face mask; costume
GENERAL REGION: North America
COUNTRY: United States of America
ETHNICITY: Mixed
DESCRIPTION: Paper Owl Mask and Handmade Costume
MAKER (MASK): The Beistle Co. (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1900- )
MAKER (COSTUME): Unknown
CEREMONY: Halloween
AGE (MASK): 1930s
AGE (COSTUME): 1920s
MAIN MATERIAL (MASK): card paper
OTHER MATERIALS (MASK): dyed crepe paper; ink; metal staples
MAIN MATERIAL (COSTUME): dyed  and printed cotton cloth
OTHER MATERIALS (COSTUME): stitching; brass bells; steel snaps

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 cutting the shape from card paper and printing the design on it, then stapling a headband made of foldable crepe paper made by a process invented in Germany. Such mass-produced masks were inexpensive enough to be used by all Halloween celebrants regardless of social position and wealth. Because they were made to be disposable, few survive in their original condition. The costume was hand-sewn in the 1920s from dyed and printed cloth. It was made for a small child, approximately four to five years old. The seamstress sewed small brass bells on the arms and legs to make light noise whenever the wearer moved, an innovation not only festive but helpful in finding the child in the dark while trick-or-treating.

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 documentary about Halloween in the United States.

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TITLE: Canary Party Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: North America
COUNTRY: United States of America
ETHNICITY: Mixed
DESCRIPTION: Buckram Canary Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Mardi Gras; Halloween
AGE: ca. 1930s
MAIN MATERIAL: buckram
OTHER MATERIALS: paint

Buckram masks such as this one were mass-produced masks and popular among the middle class in the 1920s to the 1950s, when they were replaced by vacuformed plastic. This specific mask, representing a canary bird, was made from buckram, moistened and dried over a form, then hand painted with details. Many such masks were made by the American Mask Company in Woodhaven, New York.

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 documentaries about Halloween and Mardi Gras in the United States.

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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: Bedouin Battoulah
TYPE: face veil
GENERAL REGION: Middle East
COUNTRY: Yemen
ETHNICITY: Arabic
DESCRIPTION: Bedouin Woman’s Battoulah (Veil Mask)
MAKER: Unknown
FUNCTION: social control; status
AGE: 1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: dyed cloth
OTHER MATERIALS: dyed cloth; stitching; turquoise pebbles; coral; pearls; silver decorations; gold beads

Arabic women living in rural areas or hewing to old traditions continue to wear the battoulah, a partial veil mask, throughout the Persian Gulf region.  Although the tradition has fallen out of favor among younger and urban Arabic women, some continue to wear it to indicate their status as married or to avoid unwanted attention. In the distant past, the mask was gold or red in color, but today black and silver predominate.

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TITLE: Bedouin Niqab
TYPE: face veil
GENERAL REGION: Middle East
COUNTRY: Egypt
SUBREGION: Siwa Oasis
ETHNICITY: Berber
DESCRIPTION: Berber Bedouin Woman’s Niqab (Veil Mask)
MAKER: Unknown
FUNCTION: celebration; social control
AGE: 1980s
MAIN MATERIAL: cotton cloth
OTHER MATERIALS: beads; silver coins; brass coins; silver plates; metal chains; stitching

In the western desert of Egypt, Berber women living in Bedouin societies sometimes wear masks or veils called niqab. The veils serve multiple functions, including protecting the women’s face from sun damage, filtering dust from the air, displaying adornment, and demonstrating wealth or status. The veil may also allow men to exercise social control over women’s bodies, maintaining their status as proprietary to fathers and husbands.  Not all Bedouian societies use the niqab, but those that do generally begin the practice after the woman or girl has been married.

The niqab worn by Bedouin women on special occasions are sometimes elaborately decorated with coins and beads, like this one.  Such masks are not for everyday use; they would be too hot and heavy. They are worn during special events, such as weddings and feasts.  This one comes from the Berber people in the Siwa Oasis, in the western Egyptian desert.

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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: Harb Bedouin Mask
TYPE: face veil
GENERAL REGION: Middle East
COUNTRY: Saudi Arabia
SUBREGION: Arabian Peninsula (Bilad al-Sham)
ETHNICITY: Arab (Harb)
DESCRIPTION: Harb Bedouin Mask
MAKER: Unknown
FUNCTION: celebration; social control
AGE: 1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: cotton cloth
OTHER MATERIALS: stitching; silver ornaments

In the Hijaz (Islamic holy land), Arabic women of the Harb tribe wear the veil on certain occasions.  The Harb people are a Bedouin tribe living between western Saudi Arabia and Yemen.  The function of the veil is ostensibly to preserve female modesty, which allows male tribe members to control female bodies.  Such masks are not for everyday use; they would be too hot and heavy. They are worn during special events, such as weddings and feasts, and when strangers visit the camp.

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TITLE: Bedouin Niqab
TYPE: face veil
GENERAL REGION: Middle East
COUNTRY: Egypt
SUBREGION: Siwa Oasis
ETHNICITY: Berber
DESCRIPTION: Berber Bedouin Woman’s Niqab (Veil Mask)
MAKER: Unknown
FUNCTION: celebration; social control
AGE: 1952
MAIN MATERIAL: wool cloth
OTHER MATERIALS: glass beads; silver coins; silver plates; metal chains; stitching

In the western desert of Egypt, Berber women living in Bedouin societies sometimes wear masks or veils called niqab. The veils serve multiple functions, including protecting the women’s face from sun damage, filtering dust from the air, displaying adornment, and demonstrating wealth or status. The veil may also allow men to exercise social control over women’s bodies, maintaining their status as proprietary to fathers and husbands.  Not all Bedouian societies use the niqab, but those that do generally begin the practice after the woman or girl has been married.

The niqab worn by Bedouin women on special occasions are sometimes elaborately decorated with coins and beads, like this one.  Such masks are not for everyday use; they would be too hot and heavy. They are worn during special events, such as weddings and feasts.  This one comes from the Berber people in the Siwa Oasis, in the western Egyptian desert, and was worn by a Bedouin woman until her death in 1952.

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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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