Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Beginners Guide to Mask Collecting

How to buy, organize, maintain, and display a mask collection

Many different cultures produce tribal masks. Some are for tribal rites and religious celebrations, while others are designed for parties, plays, holiday celebrations, or just for hanging on the wall. Modern protective masks used for sports and specialized work are also included.

Find what you like and go for it
An all-encompassing collection may not be best for everyone. Most collectors choose to specialize. While the majority of collectors do not necessarily always practice what they preach, it is advisable that the beginning collector focus mainly on a particular region or type of artwork. You can also start your collection by buying some of the hand carved wood masks of Oraclemask

Here are some suggestions:
• Any country or region
• A subject such as men, women, animals, devils or monsters
• Material of construction
• Usage When selecting an area of interest, keep in mind that some categories are more accessible and therefore more affordable. For example, Mexican masks are plentiful, but those of Northwest Coast Native Americans are quite scarce; original movie monster mask are hard to find, but reproductions of the same characters can be readily purchased.

Many currently available masks come from areas that still produce a lot of folk art. Few could be considered rare or old. In fact, many masks can still be purchased on the Internet for less than $50 each, so one need not spend a lot of money to begin their collection.

Begin by researching
The best investment a new collector can make is in a library. Some of the best books are out of print but are usually available on the Web from specialized book dealers.
Go to museums. Check the Internet for sites on masks and tribal art. If you live near a large urban area, try to visit art auctions, shops, galleries, or other collectors. The nice thing about the latter group is they will allow you to get close to masks and actually handle them. Also, you'll be conversing with people who know a lot about the field and will gladly share their knowledge. The more one studies books and actually handles masks, the better one becomes at identifying masks worth purchasing.

You're now ready to start collecting. You could go back to those shops, galleries, and museum stores that sell masks. They will be glad to see you and your checkbook, and you can probably count on them for quality and authenticity.

There are more affordable alternatives. Flea markets and yard sales can be a source for occasional good buys. I've spent many weekends searching these venues. Back in the 1970s, tribal art was unappreciated and dealers would sell those "ugly masks" for very little money. Not any more.

Save money and shoe leather
The market for masks and other tribal art has grown. Those unappreciative dealers are now asking high prices for their masks. This was becoming a problem, until eBay saved the day.
Much of the buying and selling of tribal art now takes place on the Internet. It is like a giant, worldwide flea market that specializes in whatever you want. You can review hundreds of masks in an hour, instead of walking an entire weekend just to see three or four.

EBay can be risky. Often you must base your decision to purchase on a small photograph and a written description. Look for reputable eBay dealers with a high feedback ratings and detailed descriptions & photos. Often you can find a bargain when a mask is listed under the wrong category so search all categories thoroughly.

Caring for your collection
Most masks are made to be used and are quite desirable. If seriously damaged, they may be repaired, but I would caution against doing it on your own. Even when done by an expert, repairs can lower the mask's value. Obvious repairs and changes in appearance are strongly discouraged. It is best to just give the item a light cleaning and hang it on the wall as is.
Sometimes masks, especially those from tropical countries, may be infested with insect larva. It doesn't happen very often, but if you are ever surprised by these unwanted guests, here's what to do: Put the mask in a freezer for two weeks, defrost for two weeks, then back in the freezer for another two weeks. An alternate method is to fumigate the items in the fumigation chamber of a local pesticide company. Often the charge is low because they can put it in with a batch of furniture. I have also heard that baking the mask in a 200 degree oven for 15 minutes or longer has proved successful (exercise extreme caution if attempting this method).

Keep both photographic and written records of your mask purchases. Print out closed eBay auction page for your records. Today's inexpensive digital cameras are also ideal for this purpose. Store the pictures on a computer and make a copy or printout for storage someplace else. Photo records are necessary if you ever want to sell or have a mask appraised, or in case of fire or theft. These photo records can also be used for communication with fellow collectors around the world. Keep photo files small so they can be conveniently attached to e-mail documents.

Showing them off
The obvious way to display masks is to hang them on the wall. A solid white or some neutral color as the background is best. As you acquire more and more masks, I would suggest moving them closer together on the wall rather than putting them everywhere. Of course, you'll have to get out the spackling compound and touch-up paint occasionally.

Collectors can also use special metal stands that come in various sizes. They are designed for both regular and the helmet-type masks. The regular type have two spring steel arms that snap into the rear sides of the mask and hold it above the base, whereas the helmet-style stands are a straight rod with a smaller plate welded on the top. Masks on stands can be displayed on tables and can be enjoyed from different angles. You can purchase steel stands on eBay for as little as $25 each (Watch out for high shipping charges which can easily double the price). An inexpensive alternative is to search for old candle stands, or even lamp stands, which can be altered to create unique & handsome displays for your masks.

Some large masks look great hung from the ceiling. Clear monofilament is good for this. If you are lucky enough to purchase a complete costume that goes with a mask you'll need a department store mannequin or a large stand with a crossbar.

Why do people collect masks?
Masks are a blend of painting and sculpture that dramatically reflect the creativity of different cultures. These unexpected forms, colors, and textures can be very exciting. They serve as excellent decorative tools as well as outstanding conversation pieces.

Topics for discussion are limitless including: How masks serve as symbols in rites of passage and in festivals, the perceived symbolism behind a particular mask, the vast & varied cultures from which these masks originate the expression achieved using only the crudest of tools. One can contemplate endlessly on the people, places, purposes, social significance, and artistry of these pieces, in the process gaining unique perspectives on the people who make the masks and the societies that use them.

The collector will find that masks are beautiful objects of art in their own right, as well as fascinating statements about the people and places from which they come.

Collecting tribal art will prove a highly rewarding and entertaining experience. As you learn about and acquire new pieces, your collection will grow in size and in value. But far more important that any monetary appreciation will be your personal appreciation of the art, people, and cultures that intermingle to create your own personal unique tribal art collection.

We here at Oraclemasks will be glad to assist you on making informed purchases of all kinds of masks, especially wooden masks. So please check in with us regularly and see what specials we have for sale.

Other popular related articles:

1. History and meaning of Buddha masks
2. Introduction to masks
3. African masks
4. Ritual masks of the world
5. Beginners Guide to Mask Collection

See more hand carved wood masks of Oraclemask

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