On Fat Tuesday, I met with a couple groups around The Quilt. My senior groups have always loved a Mardi Gras theme, with festive masks and beads. But this time, I decided to leave the beads at home.
During a recent closet cleaning, I discovered just how many masks I own. "This is ridiculous!" I told myself, "I need to use these or get rid of them." So... I planned a mask theme.
Starting With Mardi Gras
I was cautious. Some of my masks are creepy. Some are comical and some could be politically incorrect.
So, I started with just a few Mardi Gras masks and everyone was happy. We talked about the festive colors and feathers and designs. Everyone liked the idea that eyes and mouths were showing and we could see expressions.
Masks for Dia de Muertos
Some of my friends from Mexico, were excited to see the masks that reminded them of Day of the Dead festivities. We talked about how painted faces can become a mask. A face just covered in paint, can hide expressions... if the makeup is done well.
Masks of Mexico
My father collected many masks when he lived in Mazatlan. I know only a little about the history of Mexican masks and how they've been used, in ceremonies and celebrations. I brought the least scary of the collection, but still hesitated before sharing. I was blown away by the enthusiasm. Not only did both groups admire the artistry, but they seemed incredibly eager to try them on!
On Stage and in Film
A woman in my morning group reached for the unpainted wooden face and said it looked like a Roman mask. I was impressed. We talked about the use of masks in Greek and Roman theatre and Chinese operas. But most of the folks were much more excited to remember the mask-wearing heroes and villains from TV and movies!
Besides wearing masks, we passed photos around the table and tossed around lots of questions. "What does a mask hide?" "What kind of masks do people wear for work?" "What athletes wear masks?" "Are masks more scary or funny?" I was surprised at some of the brainstorming.
The groups came up with a long list of special masks... masks worn by welders and robbers, surgeons and scuba divers... beauty masks for skin treatment or sleeping... masks for patients who need oxygen or burn victims.
Masks for Kids
Most of my seniors had memories of wearing a mask for Halloween. But none remembered anything quite so deluxe as the paper mache granny mask, that my dear friend Diane, wore when we trick-or-treated. The mask fit over her entire head, so I, (as a mask-less bride) had to guide her from door to door!
I had some high school volunteers in my afternoon group. Only one of them ever remembered wearing a mask for Halloween. We teased the young girls, that they really missed out. Then we fessed up, about just how uncomfortable it was having a plastic mask strapped onto your face... steaming it with your breath... mumbling through the mouth hole and stumbling from house to house, when the eye holes didn't match up.
Masks From the Fifties
I had 3 vintage Halloween masks to share. Again I was cautious. I was concerned about how appropriate these masks would be. But the masks got everyone talking.
One man said he was part Cherokee and he wasn't insulted by the painted face of the Native American. One woman said the face of the woman was beautiful. No one could decide what the gorilla-man face was, but they were amused and nearly all in my morning group wanted to put it on. Dear Betty, in the afternoon group, pushed it away with a laugh. "Keep this away from me!" I was intrigued by the reactions.
Many fondly remembered making masks out of paper grocery bags. Even one of the high school volunteers had made one. These flat, paper masks showed a simple and clever way to disguise yourself.
We all agreed, they were less creepy on the table than on the face! We tried to figure out what made it so odd. There was something eerie about combining 2 images... the real and unreal. But again, both groups were more delighted than bothered! That surprised me.
What Makes a Mask?
We talked about the definition. A mask is an object that covers the face, for protection, disguise, performance or entertainment. The morning group decided, these crazy noses and mouths were worthy of being called masks.
I brought out a few tiny masks for inspection. There were a few sweet comments about how cute they were... but all the attention went back to the big masks...
Why So Fun?
I honestly could not figure out what made my folks so happily entertained by the masks. The clown mask was kind of frightening and I almost didn't bring it. But many begged to try it on. I realized I should have brought a mirror, but they didn't even seem to care. They loved watching the others react. A few times I snapped an image on my phone, so they could see themselves.
My morning group wanted to pose for pictures, in every mask. I always bring them copies and I will have tons to distribute next month! My afternoon group just seemed so tickled to surprise each other. The full face masks were the most fun. There were no hints of facial expressions, but the body language and the muffled giggles, gave much away!
What Did I Learn?
I've always known that puppets and masks have something in common. They offer many adults and children an opportunity to play at being someone else. Maybe that's why we had so much fun with these masks. I didn't take the theme to my kid groups at the Shelter, but I may find a way to adapt for them. We'll see.
For 20+ years children have called it the Magic Quilt. They've danced and pretended all over these colorful squares. I've dragged it to schools, shelters and studios where children have climbed on top to hear Magic Quilt Stories and to act them out.