Thursday, December 22, 2005

Mask Traditions - 1; Iroquois False Face

List of Iroquoiian tribes and info. on the Iroquois confederacy, at

I was familiar with two big "traditions" of First Nations mask-making, while growing up: The Northwest Coast tradition (you know; totem poles and stuff) and the Iroquoiian "False Face" Society . I remember watching a television show, demonstrating the steps in the creation of a "False Face", including carving the mask into a living Basswood (Linden) tree. The spirit and power of the tree would be transferred into the mask, which was not removed, until the mask was finished. These were by far, the scarier masks, distorted and "unnatural". I recognized them as unnatural, even before I knew the word.

Basswood is a popular wood for modern bird-carvers and an important prehistoric resource for Native peoples as a source of bark-fiber and cordage.

Supposedly, there were two ways to join the society: Either be cured by them, or have a powerful dream compelling you to do so. The faces were pretty scary when I was a kid, but I imagine that everyone would find them downright nightmarish in the right smoky, fevered halflight.


Click mask pics for larger/detail.

(Flint) Stone Giant Mask.

(Flint) Stone Giant Mask; carved by "Stick-on-the-Shoulder", at The Wolf

"Spoonmouth" mask; carved by "Stick-on-the-Shoulder", at The Wolf

False Face Mask.Charles Gatewood/Art Resource, NY via MSN Encarta.

False Face Mask.Charles Gatewood/Art Resource, NY via MSN Encarta

An unidentified False Face mask

An unidentified False Face mask, from the slideshow (link below).

A slideshow at - " educational, non-profit organization specializing in symposiums and conferences in the arts, sciences, humanities and letters, and tours which focus on Southwest culture, architecture and history." Main page.

The 'False face' tradition, has definitely had an influence on my own work. Here's a couple examples
Papier-mache mask;

Papier-mache mask; "Warrior"

Carved cedar mask, with Moose hair, metal eyes.

Carved cedar mask, with Moose hair, metal eyes.


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