Making 'Masks and Faces' meaningful

Friday, May 24, 2002

Across the gallery from Japanese theater masks and a World War I gas mask, a man in a painting stares out from behind bars, flashing a signal with a knife.

The organizers of "Masks and Faces," a new exhibit at the University Museum, hope these kinds of juxtapositions spur the minds of children and adults to think about both historical objects and art in new ways.

The show includes a variety of three-dimensional masks, from those used by hockey players to others worn in Indonesian and Kenyan tribal ceremonies. Masks continue to communicate information about the culture that produced them, though the rituals may have changed through the centuries, museum education curator Andrea Morrill says.

"There are parallels but differences."

"Masks and Faces" consists of 51 two-dimensional and three-dimensional works in all, a few of which have been rarely exhibited. The show, organized by museum director Dr. Stanley Grand, is taken entirely from the museum's permanent collection.

The museum is offering special tours of the show for day-care centers and summer camp students. In addition, students in grades 4-6 can register for workshops to be taught on both July 13 and July 27 in connection with the exhibit.

One workshop titled "Masks and Faces" will focus on interacting with the exhibit and on making masks out of various materials. Morrill will lead that workshop. The other workshop, to be led by archaeology curator Jim Phillips, is titled "Ways of the Past" and will provide participants with hands-on experiences with Native American tools and weapons. Those include a device called a pump drill, precursor of the motorized version, along with bows and arrows and blowguns.

Phillips is a former assistant director at Wickliffe Mounds Research Center in Kentucky.

The fee for the workshops is $5. The number of participants is limited to 15.

The museum also has produced a family gallery guide that anyone can use to learn more about the exhibit during a visit to the museum. Entrance to the museum is free.

The combination of historical artifacts in the same exhibit with art points to a truth that helps keep museums in business, says Phillips. "People collect weird things. Everybody collects something."

He collects fencing swords.

Morrill, who has a master's degree in art history, likens her profession to an archaeologist. "You can see it right there before you, a concrete example of history," she says. "You can see the past -- the goals, the ideas, the conflicts and the issues."

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