The other shoe … er, mask drops

Dana Mitchell repairing broken mask

Concentrating like a surgeon, Dana Mitchell repairs a broken African mask. The wooden mask was bumped off its wall hanger in the exhibit gallery. Gravity, being no respecter of art, sent the mask to the floor with a resounding crack. A big piece of the neck along with chips and finish fragments were broken from the mask. The fix was on.

Dana Mitchell prefers that you concentrate more on the African art in his collection than you do on him. Considering the passion with which he collects art, it’s an uphill job to separate the man from his art collection and vice-versa. More than 250 pieces from his collection are on public exhibit at The Arts and Science Center for Southeast Arkansas in Pine Bluff.

The story of Dana and his collection started on the Photo of the Week page at Corndancer dot com. To see other pictures on the Photo of the Week page and find out how all of this started, click here, a very cool thing to do.

An exercise in patience

The process of repairing the well over 100 year old mask was an exercise in patience. Job would have been proud. Dana first collected the wood pieces which separated from the mask. The largest piece was probably four inches across. The smallest, well, suffice to say, tiny. Then he collected tiny fragments of the kaolin chipped from the white stripes on the mask you see above.

Original tools preferred, but not this time

Though Dana prefers to use only the tools which were available to the original maker when repairing his objects, this was an exceptional case, thus the zip ties you see as glue clamps. He reground the kaolin, added a bit of mother earth from a flower bed on the premises and proceeded to refinish his repair.

The results were nearly invisible and a couple of people who did not know a crack was there, did not see the repair. The final step was burnishing the repair with his fingers. The mask is now hanging in its place in the gallery, looking as good as new, er, old.

Dana Mitchell and his African art

Dana Mitchell's collection includes tiny pieces, huge pieces and a lot of in-betweens.

Each object in the exhibit has its own unique characteristics. While Dana adamantly denies being an “authority” on primitive African art, you could fool me. Every piece I asked about invoked a litany of interesting information from Dana tantamount to an audible version of Wikipedia.

Although my earlier studies were in art, I’m not certain that I ever understood the functionality of this art in its original environment. I think I do now. The uniqueness of this art is that unique functionality in its society; either utilitarian, spiritual, or as a necessary part of social traditions. It’s a matter of better understanding the world in which we live.

See higher resolution versions of the pictures here.

Thanks for dropping by,

Joe Dempsey,
Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind