False Face mask
Late 19th or early 20th century
Carved wood, pigments, leather, horsehair
Height: 29 cm – 11 ½ in.
Ex Galerie Schoffel de Fabry, Paris
Ex private collection, France, acquired from the above in 2017
Wood-carved masks were the most distinctive manifestations of Iroquois religious art.
The mask shown here is associated with the False Faces, the most prominent Iroquois medicinal society. Such masks were used during communal healing rituals which focused on driving out disease and misfortune, and on restoring balance. False Face spirits were also said to be called upon in times of personal need.
False Face practitioners wore masks and carried large rattles made from a turtle shell. They spread pieces of coal and ashes and blew smoke on the sick persons.
Individuals who had dreamed of the False Faces and those who had been healed by them became de facto members of the society. The first Western accounts of False Face rituals date back to the late 17th century, and the tradition and ceremonies continued well into the 20th century.
These masks are extremely rare in private and museum collections.