Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Mask - from Lötschental to Leeds

Even on holiday a museum curator is still a curator! When we planned to return to the beautiful and remote Lötschental valley in Switzerland (having last visited a couple of years ago) I offered to try and acquire for the Leeds museum collections an example of one of the traditional carnival masks that are peculiar to the valley. The local museum (in Kippel) has a whole gallery dedicated to the masks and examples can be seen on the outside of building in many of the villages in the valley.

The origins of the tradition seem shrouded in mystery. The valley is strongly Catholic and the masks are associated with Carnival and the end of the winter snows. Until the 2nd half of the 20th century when better roads (and tunnels) were built, the valley used to be cut off from the outside world during winter and this isolation may be behind the development and continuation of this mask culture. Traditionally the masks and costumes were worn only by unmarried men, but apparently these days anyone can join in, regardless of age, sex or marital status.

The masks are all different but all equally grotesque. Pictured is the one I bought from the workshop of Heinrich Lehner in Blatten which is now part of the Leeds collections.

Although there are a number of different craftsmen and women making masks in the valley, many make them for their own use in the Carnival celebrations rather than to sell to tourists. Heinrich Lehner does sell masks direct from his workshop (pictured) but you have to ring the door bell to get in and then summon up enough German to ask for what you want!

We stayed three nights as the Hotel Fafleralp, which also uses a mask as a symbol on its signage (and napkins!).

While walking high in this beautiful alpine landscape we also caught a glimpse of the goats who appear to have provided the hair for the mask I bought!

The mask, having made it back to Leeds, is now set to go on display in Leeds City Museum later this year.

Readers Comments

No comments:

Post a Comment