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Sacred Mask -
Notable Mask-Carvers -
  Making a Mask

A very good introduction to Balinese topeng (mask) can be found in Masks of Bali (Chronicle Books, 1992) by Judy Slattum (photographs by Paul Schraub).

This beautiful picture book includes 50 stunning photographs of Balinese masks, the first mask history, explanations on the process of making ritual masks, and the specific types and functions of making Balinese masks. Anyone who is shopping for a mask, or who already owns one, can find in this book the type of character it represents and for which rituals it is used.

The most difficult part of carving a mask is removing the back, which usually takes a day and a half. Carving out the nose and getting around the knots can also be very time-consuming. The sand-papering of the average mask lasts about four hours.

A plain natural wooden mask only takes around five days to treat because it is protected with just three layers of neutral shoe polish. On a painted mask, however, up to 80 coats (maximum number of coats in one day is four) are applied. This is really a hard work because the piece is held between the feet.

For paint, calcified pig-bone is used. It's pulverized for 12 hours to make a powder, then mixed with Chinese lacquer. Finally, real hair and gold leaf may be used to embellish the mask.

Once the mask is finished and before it is used by a dancer for the first time, a traditional ceremony is performed by a priest to remove the carver's spirit from the mask, enabling the dancer's spirit to enter.

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