Local mask makers display work
September 12, 2019
MISSOULA – Seeley Lake mask makers Herman and Susie Andersen are displaying their hand-carved masks at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices in Missoula through the end of the month. Both enjoy sharing stories about each mask and the cultural significance behind them.
Susie moved to Alaska in 1978 and taught in Makotak, a remote Yupik village near Bristol Bay where she met her husband Herman. Herman is of the Aleut tribe in Alaska and his mother was Yupik. They started seeing all the different styles of masks in the various Alaskan cultures and met famous mask maker Sam Fox.
"We just thought they were really interesting and really unique," said Susie. "When we found out we could take classes and learn how to carve them we were very excited."
They took lessons in mask making from many of the exceptional mask makers in Alaska and learned about the associated culture. They were encouraged to add their own look to the masks instead of trying to make an exact copy. They collected feathers, shells and scraps of fur to decorate the masks and added other decorations that people gave them. Some of the masks they created were from Herman's mother's stories.
The Andersens spent time in New Mexico while they did graduate work. They learned about the Zuni and Navajo Native American cultures and their masks. They started carving the masks from these Native American cultures as well.
Susie said the appearance and use of the masks varies from culture to culture and tribe to tribe. Most of the masks they make are in the Yupik style. The Yupik culture is playful with their masks, using them to tease people. However in the southwest, the masks of the Zuni and Navajo cultures are used in ceremonies and are much more serious.
"Once you start making masks it is so fascinating," said Susie. "You know all the legends and you have the stories."
Although the Andersens no longer live in Alaska, they still have the connection of the masks. They used to sell their masks and give them as gifts. After moving to Seeley Lake, they just had them on display in their home. When their grandson Aaron Curtis encouraged them to put them on display they thought they would try it. Curtis spoke to his boss at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Montana Properties in Missoula and they agreed to display them.
The masks are on display through the end of September at Berkshire Hathaway, 314 N. Higgins Ave., Missoula. They are available for purchase.