2022 Masks Fundraiser & Exhibition
Museum of Art | Fort Collins
For the last three years, I’ve had the honor of creating a mask for the Eye Center of Northern Colorado Masks Fundraiser and Exhibition to benefit the Museum of Art | Fort Collins. The mask in the above photo is my contribution for this year’s benefit.
Title: Spirit of the Dan Masque
Used for protection and to communicate with the spirit world, the sacred masks made by the Dan people of Cote d’Ivoire and Liberia hold the essence of the most powerful spiritual forces and bring structure and control to their social life. Dreams sent by the mask spirit allow the wearer to dance the messages, which are then integrated into the political and religious life of the people. The goatskin cap on this mask stores the core of creative energy. The posole contains the lifeforce itself.
Artists are provided a clay mask, which we then transform into what our muses see fit.
Much of my art focuses on primordial, spiritual themes, so my original concept for this mask fit snugly into these slots — seeking advice from the spirit world on how to live our lives in the physical world.
Not only do I infuse each of my art pieces with love, joy, and play (a technique that probably predates creation and the first artists who put pigment on cave walls), but I listen to what the raw piece has to tell me about what it should be.
I’ve played the djembe (a drum from West Africa), which is very much close to my heart, for over 12 years. A couple of my djembes are from Cote d’Ivoire where the Dan mask originated, so it wasn’t a huge leap from there to this Dan mask. The drums will always transport you back to where they originated. There was no question — I had to do this mask to honor the Dan people.
I used a roughly textured medium and mixed in acrylic paints to resemble colors the ancients would have used — yellow ochre, burnt sienna, and ivory black. In each color, I mixed a little bit of the other two, which helps to meld the colors into each other.
For the eyes of this mask, I walked out into my backyard, where we created a small river of river rock, and chose two with the best colors and shapes for the mask. These red rocks showed up best against the charcoal-like color of the upper portion of the mask.
The mask’s teeth are posole. I’ve used posole on other art pieces, and it’s one of my favorites, but I’ve never used it for teeth until the Dan spirit guided me to do so with this mask.
Then I sprayed the mask with silver glitter hairspray and sealed it with a fine-art spray varnish. I use glitter hairspray because it’s not too little or too much. The glitter represents the spark of divinity in everyone and all things.
I gave the mask a “beard” of suede and leather, with a single bird in a cage dangling from its chin. This speaks to our human bearing of being tied to the material world until our time comes to leave it, to fly away into spirit.
Finally, the “hat” on the mask is made from a goatskin that was once stretched over a wooden shell to make a djembe. Music is a common accompaniment to the Dan mask performances, and djembes are common instruments in creating that music.
This brings us back to where we began — to Cote d’Ivoire and Liberia, where the Dan people have been using these masks since the late 19th or early 20th centuries to bring order to the chaos of living. Although Dan masks haven’t been around for a particularly long time in history, they’re based on ancient rituals and beliefs.
To view all 220+ of the 2022 masks, to bid on them, or to donate to the museum if you are unable to participate in the auction:
And one more thing . . .
If you aren’t local to Fort Collins, you can still bid. The museum will ship the mask to you if you are the winning bidder.
The exhibition and auction closes at 9:00 p.m. (Mountain Time) on May 6, 2022.
Meanwhile, enjoy this video on how the masks are made (a different shape each year).
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