Making Faces: Masks and Masquerading Around the World

Author Marty Rubin once said that “behind every mask there is a face, and behind that a story.” We invite you to join us as we explore making masks and the stories behind them.

Making Masks

Masks carved by Native American artists from the Northwest will be on display, presenting a modern take. At the event, you can learn how Pacific Northwest tribes used these facial coverings in their celebratory and religious ceremonies. Guests can try on several made in traditional Northwest Coast Native styles.

“Masks have played an important role in many tribal traditions throughout the world. They’re used for many things, from ceremonies to ensure a good harvest to curing illness. For some northernmost Native American tribes, masks hold sacred meaning and are used to convey ancient stories,” said Susanna Brooks, the Director of Learning Innovation at Whatcom Museum.

There will also be activities demonstrating traditional Japanese Noh Theater Masks. Japanese Noh Theater has been performed since the 14th century. Noh Theater Masks are used to enhance the emotions that a character is feeling.

“Masking your Feelings” will address mask-wearing as a coping mechanism for children experiencing anxiety in social situations. Children can explore and express a wide range of feelings in this activity.

Guests can learn how museums acquire their collections, what kinds of objects they accept (accessioned) into the collection, and more. If you’ve ever had any questions about how a museum operates, this is the presentation for you. With Halloween just around the corner, this is the perfect time to learn about the history and art form behind masks.

–Written by Colton Redtfeldt, Marketing Assistant

Program descriptions and schedule of events:


Noon-1pm: Children’s face painting inside the FIG Studio.

2-4pm: Masking your Feelings with Metaphorical Masks

LCB Art Studio

Noon-4pm: Ongoing mask demonstrations and workshops in the Lightcatcher Art Studio.

  • Noh Theater Masks of Japan
  • Transformation Masks

LCB Lobby

1:30-2pm: Interactive Theater for all ages

Noon-1pm and 2:30-3:30pm: Museum collections and exhibits 101—Get all these answers and more!  Experience handling a work of art, while you learn how a museum collection inspires its exhibitions.

Lightcatcher Galleries

1:30-2:30pm Docent-led gallery tour of Art of the American West: Highlights of the Haub Family Collection from the Tacoma Art Museum

2:30-3:30pm Docent-led gallery tour of People of the Sea and Cedar: A Journey Through the Tribal Cultures and History of the Northwest Coast


Helmi Juvonen Winter Dance Lithograph

Transcending Boundaries: Becoming Helmi

The Whatcom Museum recently uploaded a new virtual gallery that showcases a sampling of artwork by Helmi Juvonen (1903-1985). It can be viewed HERE. Scroll down to learn more about the life Helmi.

Helmi Juvonen, Vantage, circa 1975-1976; Gouache on rice paper. Gift of Dr. Ulrich & Stella Fritzsche.

Transcending Boundaries: Becoming Helmi

Helmi Dagmar Juvonen (1903-1985) was a Seattle-based artist who found success capturing the culture of Native American tribes across the Pacific Northwest.

She was a persistent artist who strived to create art in a time where being a female artist was tough. Even as she struggled with poverty and mental illness, Helmi continued to create art until her final days.

Finding Her Love and Audience

Born in Butte Montana in 1903, Helmi found her love of art at a young age from her father. A Finnish immigrant, her father made pencil sketches and watercolor paintings for her and her sister. When she was 15, her family moved to Seattle. During her time at Queen Anne High School, Helmi sold handmade rag dolls and greeting cards at a local department store.

After graduating, she worked as a seamstress and took on small side jobs to pay her way through Seattle Art School. Those side jobs helped her establish a line of connections that included affluent citizens and successful artists.

In 1929, through one of these connections, Helmi got a scholarship to attended Cornish School (now Cornish College of the Arts). It was there she studied puppetry and lithography. The next year, she was hospitalized with manic-depressive illness (now known as bipolar disorder). She spent three years at Northern State Hospital.

After being released, Helmi lived on the edge of poverty as she struggled to make a living. Helmi continued to take on art-related jobs and create drawings that she sold for 50 cents each. Her talents were well-recognized and her works were purchased by many important Seattle collectors. During this time, Helmi made connections with Chief Shelton of the Lummi Tribe, Chief Colowash of the Yakama tribe, and White Eagle of the Chippewa.

Capturing the Spirit of Native Americans

Over the course of two decades Helmi continued to build a rapport with tribes across the Pacific Northwest. She got the chance to participate in religious ceremonies across the state. Helmi later illustrated many of these ceremonies and captured the emotions that surrounded them. Examples of tribes she interacted with include the Lummi, Swinomish, Yakima, and Makah.

In 1953, she attended the “Treaty Day” ceremonial dances in La Conner. She also produced hundreds of drawings of Native American artifacts in the Washington State Museum.

Helmi Juvonen; Untitled (Eskimo Adam & Eve), Tempera; 13″ x 10″. Gift of Ron Kellen.

Trying Times

During the 1950s, a period of suppression and conformity, a woman living alone as an artist proved difficult. Helmi’s eccentricities, including living with dozens of cats, alarmed neighbors and family. For a time, the artist’s obsession with Mark Tobey, the most renowned of the Pacific Northwest mystic painters, embarrassed Tobey.

Helmi was mistakenly diagnosed with schizophrenia (now recognized as manic-depression). As a result, she was committed against her will to Oakhurst Convalescent Home in Elma, Washington. She lived there for the final 26 years of her life. While there, she continued to make art and welcome artists and supporters. These supporters organized exhibitions, including her 1985 retrospective at the Whatcom Museum.

The Whatcom Museum’s collection of her work, which numbers 250 objects, includes some of her finest pieces. Some of those include paintings of petroglyphs from Central Washington, watercolors of Lummi masked dancers, and more. This virtual gallery gives a small sampling of the complexity of Helmi’s vision.

Helmi’s life is one of great trials. Even in the face of mental illness and poverty, Helmi continued to produce art until her final days. Through her tireless work, she forged a unique style that merged aboriginal Northwest culture with modern art.