Indian masks are and have always been a very important component of Indian culture, notoriously to those who belong to the tribes along the Northwest coast. Although they are an ancient tradition, today they are still made, worn and displayed for various reasons.
Indian masks vary greatly in their styles and appearances, but they all have similarities in regards to their creation and meaning. For example, the makers of the masks tend to be males of high status, who are expected not only to make the masks, but hunt and fish for their family. The artwork is also typically done in solace, for purposes of concentration and lack of distraction.
Most Indian masks are made from red cedar wood, and the act itself takes a great deal of skill. Many people see this artwork as fairly simple because of its lack of intricacy, but indeed carving them takes careful thought and planning, because of things that could change the properties of the wood during creation. The design and decoration of the Indian masks is extremely important, and takes careful consideration. One typically sees the masks with animal feathers for decoration, straw hair and eyebrows that were thickly painted black for emphasis on the eyes, which are often thought to be the windows to the soul. The Indian masks often portray people or animals that are thought to hold important characteristics like leadership and bravery. Eagles and other large birds like ravens and thunderbirds are considered heroic, and their individual characteristics such as strength, friendship and bravery are emphasized in different ways, with colors and decorations.
Indian masks are appreciated for their unique artwork, colorful depiction of things without using words, and decorations carefully placed atop the carved wood. Although frequently used in historical times and situations, they are currently used for more decorative purposes, and can be found in a variety of places like art galleries, museums, and other specialty stores.
Joseph Paige © 2006