Friday, October 29, 2010

a collection of masks with minouette


i just love seeing what folks are collecting. i guess i kind of feel it tells us just a little bit about what inspires them, what they love, and what they choose to surround themselves with in their home. today, i'm delighted to present the next in the rikrak studio's collections series: 11 & a 1/2 quick questions with a wonderful artist on what they're collecting, (apart from their art supplies! ) you can also check out my new *the collectors* series on Etsy, based on these posts! hope you'll just love {perfect for halloween}: masks with ele willoughby.
who (are you) : I'm Ele Willoughby, also known as minouette. 
I like to say I'm a scientist by day and artist by night - I work
as a geophysicist and a printmaker. I live in Toronto.

what (are you collecting) : I collect masks from all over the world.

when (did you start) : I've always been interested, and have made
several masks of my own, but I started gathering a collection about 10
years ago. My mother was going to Bali and asked what I would like her
to bring me. Of course, I said, "Masks!" She was surprised by my
answer, and I was surprised that other people aren't obsessed with
masks and don't know about the incredible Balinese tradition of mask

how (many do you have?): Hmm... let's see. Not including ones I've
made myself, or Hallowe'en costumes, I have seventeen.

where (do you find them) : Well, when I'm not making relief prints,
pillows, or art, my 'day job' is marine geophysics. One of the
wonderful perks of that job, specifically since I live far from any
ocean, is that it garuntees travel. So, I do make a point of trying to
look for masks whenever I visit places far from home. I'm fascinated
that most cultures have masks, and would love to have representatives
from everywhere (like I'd love to visit just about anywhere). Though,
many are gifts. Friends and family love knowing you collect something
- it makes it more obvious what sort of gift you would like. I want my
collection to also be a reminder of the places I've been (and people
in my life) , so I don't tend to buy masks unless I'm travelling.
Occasionally, though, I've come across an imported mask which speaks
to me. My collection so far includes masks from Bali, South Korea,
Japan, Mexico, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Aruba, Tanzania, Indonesia, and

where (do you keep them) : On the wall!

what (‘s a crazy/interesting story behind one) :  I have two white
canine masks - the gifts of two of my best friends. When we were
undergraduates, we all shared a house. They adopted a wonderful,
smart, white  German Sheppard (named Agua, because she slept in her
water bowl as a tiny puppy). They went to Mexico for several months
and they brought back the white, paper dog mask. The mask, of course,
reminds me of Agua. That year, I got the chance to spend a month in
Japan, working at the Earthquake Research Institute, at the University
of Tokyo. Though the Japanese make many beautiful maks, for instance
for Noh theatre, as a grad student, I never found one which fit inside
my budget (or my greatly reduced luggage - thanks to a certain
careless airline, but that's another story). My friends surprised me
when I returned. They had managed to find a white kitsune (or fox
spirit) mask, which reminds me both of the Mexican mask, and of Agua.
So now, each of these masks means much more to me; each reminds me of
the other, of a great, former pet, of our long friendship and our
travels to Mexico and Japan. I love having two mask so unrelated, and
yet with parallels.

what (piece would you like to add): I would love to add a Canadian
mask - or several. I lived for three years in a rather rural part of
Vancouver Island, but I did not manage to get any of the incredible
masks made by the various Native groups, such as the Haida. I think I
was overwhelmed by the beauty and variety and had trouble choosing the
the right mask to invest in. I love the shapes, lines and graphic
colours they employ. Closer to home, the First Nations people of
Ontario make evocative masks with really organic lines, embellished
with things like hair or shell. Near Toronto, the McMichael Museum has
an amazing collection.

why (do you love them) :  When I was a teenager, I went out Christmas
carolling with a large group of people. A neighbour I didn't know
invited the entire group into her home and gave us hot chocolate. She
had the most incredible mask collection, covering an entire wall with
masks from all over the world. I thought, 'That's what I want.'
Artifacts and souvenirs of a life of travel, and adventure, and sort
of a celebration of what cultures have in common. I want to be careful
too - masks can have deep, spiritual meaning to their creators.  I
don't want to collect something to place on my wall if that's
disrespectful to someone's religious beliefs - something sacred, meant
for ritual, not meant to be in the home of an outsider. But I do love
the feeling they project. Sometimes masks are made to scare off
demons, represent animals, ancestors, spirits or gods. These are
artifacts embued with meaning. They are all made by hand. If a person
wears a mask, it allows them to inhabit something else, to 'be'
something else for a brief while. That can be freeing, or allow for
empathy- to place oneself in another's role.

which (one is your favourite) & why : I think that the one from Aruba
is my favorite. My mother bought it for me. I love the intracacy of
the coloration and design - but also, though I've taken an interest,
that this is a tradition I knew nothing about. It appears to be
painted elaborately, but in fact, the Quillacinga artisans use a
centuries-old technique, stretching thin pieces of coloured mopa mopa
(a resin and sort of natural rubber of the mopa mopa tree) over the

what (else do you collect) : Vintage tins, books (of course), turtle
things and I have a, um, hand-made paper and fabric collecting habit,
shall we say. :)


thanks so much, ele. what an amazing collection, nicey.

i just love ele's gorgeous print work.
owning my own minouette linocut, i can whole-heartedly attest to how gorgeous her work is. be sure to visit her gorgeous shop, filled with prints, ornaments, brooches and soft toys made from her amazing art.

and happy handmade halloween to you, nicies!
what are you dressing up as? 

 ele willoughby

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  1. I love these!!

    Happy Halloween, RR.
    What will your son dress as?

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Thanks k! I loved being able to share my masks and think about my collection, spurred by your questions. Everything looks so lovely on your blog, as always! Thanks so much for your kind words. It was a pleasure.

    I'm going to be a bat this Hallowe'en. I'd better get to making myself a new mask, pronto. ;) How about you & the little rikrak?

    Best wishes!

  4. yay! i love them, too, moira & minouette! :)

    it's a pleasure showcasing you and your work, nicey!

    and thanks for asking: i'm going this afternoon as a kittycat into little rikrak's school unicef carnival.

    he's a rockstar: complete with a fabulous handmade guitar he made! love it!


thanks so much for your comments, nicies!
it's a joy to read what everyone writes here.
thank you!