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Spirit masks.

Masks have always been a source of inspiration to artists. Throughout history, awe-inspiring designs have illustrated the passion of a human face. Whether they are ceremonial, religious, or artistic, masks will continue to enliven our expressions.

Before starting the maskmaking project, the students and I discussed an imaginary "mystical village" inhabited by spiritual beings. Then, we made a list of names that described their qualities (e.g., Forest Spirit, Death Spirit, Mountain Spirit, Warrior Spirit, etc.).

To compel the students to be creative in designing their masks, I suggested that they choose the subjects of their masks at random. I also suggested that they investigate ideas for the project by designing a series of small color sketches (eight to ten).

These sketches can be approached in three different ways. First, depict the face of a creature or animal that lives in a particular environment (e.g., Forest Spirit: monkey, tiger, bear, skunk, etc.); second, create a personification of that spirit (e.g., Mountain Man, Desert Jinni, Indian Warrior, Water Goddess, etc.); and third, compose an abstract mask comprising different elements found in that environment (e.g., Desert Spirit: use sagebrush to represent hair, substitute a snake for the mouth, cover the skin with dirt and rocks, etc.).

The sketches can be collected over a period of days. Between these due dates, I asked the students to research a culture or period of art to see how other artists have approached maskmaking, and to find inspiration for their final sketches.

Once all of the sketches were complete, we determined which design ideas to explore. Then, I asked the students to choose their two favorite ideas and draw detailed color enlargements. One of these enlargements served as the design for the final product.

Before the students began constructing the masks in clay, I distributed a small piece of oil-base clay for creating a mock-up. This eased the sometimes difficult transition of transforming a two-dimensional design to a three-dimensional design. oil-base clay is also easier to manipulate than the earthenware clay the students will use to complete the project.

Finally, after all of the designing, I gave the students earthenware clay to create their life-size masks. The constructed masks were then dried and fired. For the remainder of the project, students repaired the cracks in their masks with plaster of Paris, colored them with tempera paints, and added a variety of materials to give their pieces a finished look.

One of the most important parts of this project is the critique. Both the teacher and the students should be involved in a lively and constructive discussion which addresses the stages of the project, as well as covers the aspects of the mask that were particularly well-done or needed improvement.

The maskmaking project can be one of the year's major assignments. Students will learn the principles of two- and three-dimensional design and the role masks play in other cultures. over the past nine years, I have seen an amazing variety of artistic interpretations of the spirit mask theme, and I look forward to next year's projects.
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Title Annotation:teaching mask making in junior high school art class
Author:Daseler, Jack C.
Publication:School Arts
Date:Oct 1, 1993
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