Includes paper, paper maché, or cardboard.

TITLE: Totsakan Khon Mask
TYPE: helmet mask
COUNTRY: Thailand
DESCRIPTION: Totsakan (Green) Khon
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Ramakien Dance Drama
AGE: 1960s
MAIN MATERIAL: paper maché
OTHER MATERIALS: plaster; gilding; mirrors; paint; mother-of-pearl teeth; wooden fangs

The Ramakien is the Thai adaptation of the traditional Hindu epic from India, the Ramayana.  Most male characters in the drama wear masks fashioned from paper maché and elaborately gilded, decorated, and painted.

This mask represents the demon king Totsakan, also written Tosakanth (or Ravana in Hindi), who is supposed to have 100 faces and 20 hands. His face is green during most of the play, but when he ascends to power his face turns gold.  Totsakan is the villain at the center of the Ramakien, as he abducts Sita, the beautiful wife of the hero, King Rama.  The remainder of the play focuses on Rama’s efforts, with his loyal demigod ally Hanuman, to rescue Sita and punish Totsakan.

For more on Thai khon masks, see Natthapatra Chandavij & Promporn Pramualratana, Thai Puppets and Khon Masks (Bangkok: River Books, 1998).


TITLE: Waggis Carnival Mask
TYPE: helmet mask
COUNTRY: Switzerland
DESCRIPTION: Waggis (Alsation) Carnival helmet mask with hat
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Fasnacht (Carnival)
AGE: ca. 1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: paper maché
OTHER MATERIALS: paint; plastic hair; wool hat

Fasnacht is what the Tyrolean Swiss call Carnival.  In many towns in Austria, southern Germany, Switzerland, and northern Italy, local folk don elaborate masks and costumes to parade through the town.  Different towns have variations on the parade, such as the Schemenlaufen of Imst, the Schellerlaufen of Nassereith, and the Muller and Matschgerer of Innsbruck, Austria.

In Basel, Switzerland, masks are almost all made of paper maché and take a helmet form. Armies of costumed clowns, musicians, and dancers, called cliques, parade around town in uniform mask styles for 72 nearly continuous hours on the Monday following Ash Wednesday. The paraders must wear their Larven (masks) throughout the parade and are expected never to remove the mask in order to identify themselves.  They throw confetti at crowd members with such proliferation that it blankets the streets.

Although there is a great deal of innovation and creativity in mask styles, there are certain styles that tend to reappear annually. This mask, known as Waggis, represents a big-nosed, frizzy-haired clown, who wears wooden clogs, a blue shirt, and a red neckerchief. He is a prankster who parodies the Alsatian farmers who formerly came to Basel market days to sell their produce (Waggis literally means a person from Alsace in Basel dialect). It was worn for several decades and retired after the 2010 parade.

Other common characters include the Alti Dante (old aunt), Dummbeeter (trumpetist) and Pierrot (a sad clown from the late Italian Commedia dell’Arte, known for his white and black makeup).


TITLE: Lunar New Year Mask
TYPE: helmet mask
DESCRIPTION: Elderly Woman “Big Head” Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Lunar New Year
FUNCTION: Celebration; Entertainment
AGE: 1980s
MAIN MATERIAL: paper maché
OTHER MATERIALS: gesso; paint; dyed polyester fabric

The Chinese celebrate the lunar new year with lion dances, parades, and fireworks throughout the country.  Normally, the celebration begins on new year’s eve and lasts 15 days, and it provides an opportunity for entertainment, family reunion, honoring ancestors, and planning for the coming year. In the parade, armies of “big-headed Buddhas” clad in traditional silk costumes (or their modern polyester equivalents) follow the lion dancers.  They cavort for the entertainment of the audience and to bring good fortune in the coming year. Among these masqueraders are old man and old woman characters, such as the one represented by this mask. In modern Hong Kong, this is the largest festival of the year, and includes floats and decorations throughout the city.