Native American Masks - Secret Societies and Symbols

Native American Masks - Eastern, Southwest and Pacific

Native American masks masks are beautiful, mysterious, frightening, silly … the purpose of masks, as with most things associated with the Native cultures, vary from tribe to tribe – some spiritual, some healing, some for entertaining. Native Americans had a deep relationship with animals in their environment and adopted the “spirit” of various animals to help them on their life’s quest. It was believed that when a person put on a mask for ceremonies, the spirit of the animal depicted in the mask entered the person wearing it and share in the spirit/power of that animal. Some masks were portrait masks, intended to portray an important figure. Some were used by a culture’s secret society, for instance a war society or a healing society. Some were worn by shamans. Some were used in the Northwest Coast’s potlatch ceremonies.

Apache Spirit Dancers

The most renowned makers of Native American masks were the Northwest Coast Indians – they carved beautiful and elaborate dance masks.

Northwest Coast Mask

The Hopi and other Pueblo Indians carve and paint wooden Kachina masks for their traditional religious dances.

Hopi Kachina Mask

The Iroquois’ False Face society is a healing society and deeply spiritual to the Iroquois Nation.

Navajo and Apache made leather masks.

The Cherokee would craft their Native American masks from gourds for storytelling. This crafting has dramatically decreased with the forced removal of the Cherokee from their traditional lands and the gourds used to make the masks were unavailable in the new locations.

Mask of the Cherokee

Collecting or Purchasing of Native American masks...

  • To ensure authenticity, visit reputable galleries.
  • Carvings are generally signed by the carver.
  • Purchased on-line from site guaranteeing authenticity in writing.
  • Authentic carvings are carved from wood, not plastic or resin.
  • It is a one-of-a-kind piece.
  • If the details are too perfect with straight sides or perfectly flat bottom, it is probably not authentic.
  • There will be a vast price difference between authentic and a knock-off.
  • Some knock-offs will be made from wood or a wood composite. If there are other pieces that are too similar, they were probably mass-produced.

Indeed, mass-produced reproductions fill a market niche for those who cannot afford the real thing. However, reproductions do not feed a family. If the original artisans were paid a royalty, then everyone would benefit. BUT, this is seldom done.

Free Spirit Gallery offers free eBooks: Pacific Northwest Native Indian Art; An Overview of Canadian Arrtic Inuit Art; and Pacific Northwest Native Indian Art Carvings.

If Native American Indian pieces are of interest for either buying or collecting, become familiar with them. Visit museums to study the various forms, materials, tribal affiliations and designs. Go to art shows that showcase Native American artisans. Antique shows are also a good venue - go through the booths of vendors selling these items. If they are passionate about what they have, they will answer your questions. And, of course, inter-tribal powwows are excellent venues to look and ask.

You can also go the The Indian Arts and Crafts Association for a listing of registered and certified Native American Artisans.

Above all, any art form being marketed as a genuine Native American handcrafted item must legally be just that. The spirit of the law is that any artwork or craft fashioned by a Native American, the artisan must be a member of an Indian Tribe, and their membership has been verified and certified.

These Native American artisans are practicing their art perhaps as a livelihood. And, through their art, they are keeping their culture, history and spirituality alive.

Native American Arts has free e-books covering the subjects of Collecting and Fraudulence that are excellent!

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