Friday, October 31, 2014

Looking at the Past through Gauze Filters

I found these masks in a grocery bag among other Halloween masks and items at an estate sale this past year.  I believe the whole bag cost $5 and I was surprised to find 1920's/30's vintage paper and gauze masks inside.  But not as surprised as I was by one of the masks I found among them.  I admit I struggled with my decision to blog about it.

Normally, I like to keep this blog lighthearted.  If anyone is guilty of glamorizing the past and looking past its shortcomings and sometimes outright horrors, it's me, but I've also never been one to ignore or censure these things.  I'm neither praising nor bashing the past here.  I think there are a lot of good things about the past years that we've lost.  But the years gone by are just like any others -- there were good times and there were bad; and there were good aspects and there were bad.  But let's get to the masks and hopefully my babbling will eventually make some sense.

The first mask is made of paper.  It's hand-painted and was made in Czechoslavakia. 



I'm not sure if this is a child's mask or something an adult would have worn on New Year's Eve or some other masquerade party.

Note the size of the eyeholes.  Good luck seeing out of those.


This next mask reminds me of the mask "Tootie" wore in "Meet Me in St. Louis"



"Tootie" from "Meet Me in St. Louis".

Next up is a classic convict with the typical black and white striped hat.  I believe that is real hair for the eyebrows and mustache.





And now the reason for my hesitation in posting these masks and the source of my comments at the beginning of this post.



It's a child's mask and I don't think it was worn with any intentional malice; this was the age of Al Joleson and Amos & Andy.  Minstrel acts were still making appearances throughout the Midwest and South.  "Blackface" was a part of our entertainment culture and people didn't understand, recognize or perhaps even ignored how offensive it was, accepting it with a casual attitude.  Unfortunately, the bad things we do casually may be the worst of all.

4 comments:

Lady M said...

It was pretty accepted back in the day to dress up as stereotypes of other cultures - Chinese, gypsies, etc. without a lot of thought to how offensive it might be.

Tom said...

True. I saw a vintage gauze mask with stereotypical Asian features at an antique mall last week.

FrankO said...

seeing what these masks look like in color makes me understand why those old photos are even scarier and disturbing than you expect -- they started out that way. http://tw.gs/XZR1Zv

as for the blackface, it's at least interesting from a historical perspective, even if it's mortifying from a cultural one.

Tom said...

Yeah, those old Halloween photos are always creepy. And agreed, it is interesting from a historical perspective and shouldn't be forgotten. And the construction of the mask is pretty amazing too, if a little creepy with the real hair.

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