Post n 694


Contenute of the Post:






 Text and pictures


courtesy of



picture n 5 courtesy of 


Mort Golub


 Thomas Murray will be curating a special exhibition:



at the entrance of the

San Francisco Tribal Art Fair

taking place at

Fort Mason, February 6-9, 2014.



Masks of the Himalayas and Indonesia will be presented with contemporary works from the 

“Shamanic Mask Series” 



by sculptor 

Mort Golub  

  that share common themes of  animism and   transformation .









It is now the stuff of legends and has entered in the realm of Myth, and to think it happened right here at the Sausalito Flea Market.

Who would have guessed that day would turn out to be an event of such historic importance for the World of Himalayan Masks…

I speak of a Sunday that started off like any other Sunday back in 1984, where we would “come on down and pay our respects to the Church of the Holy Flea.”

Treasures, junk and ethnic art mixed with wild abandon could be found from Afghanistan, Bolivia, Cambodia, right on to Xhosa, Yemen, and Zambia and everywhere in between.

There were those who got there before sunrise with flashlights, and then there were the late arrivals, nursing hangovers from their Saturday night partying the evening before who never arrived until after noon.

I tried to get there before my friend Mort Golub, as he was known to have a good eye but often restricted his outlay to $60; this allowed me a little room to maneuver on slightly more costly items he might have passed over.

But on the day in question, much to my chagrin, he beat me to the flea market by half an hour, 30 critical minutes that permitted him to make a world-class discovery!

He came over with a mask in his hand and asked me what I thought… I could see instantly it was one of the finest Himalayan masks I had ever seen, a

black Mahakala.

It had come fresh from Nepal, brought down out of the mountains by a Sherpa, to be sold to pay the expenses of a Tibetan New Year’s pilgrimage to the sacred Boudhanath Stupa in Kathmandu.

And now, only days later, Mort had astutely bought it from a world traveler who had acquired it from that pilgrim and had himself just arrived back in the States.

Mort asked me what I thought and I could only tell him it was a great piece and how much did he pay?

He was visibly shaken when he answered $600, ten times his normal limit.

And I made the mistake of offering him $1,000 on the spot.

He was no fool and knew a profit of $400 in half an hour was too good to be true.

He declined.

He brought it back home and put it in a drawer because it frightened his young daughter.

And over the months I would come over and boost my offers, $1,500, $2,500, $3,500…

Finally he thanked me and told me once and for all he was never going to let me have it… at which point I said, “OK Mort, just so you know that is a great masterpiece and if you are not going to sell it, why not use it as the founding piece of a collection?

There is a unique opportunity right now

because great pieces are coming out and Himalayan masks are not widely understood, which means we can take advantage of price variation in the market.

But be advised the very best will cost some real money, so please know that in advance; you will get what you pay for!”

And so it came to pass that Mort agreed to fund the effort and I would use my connections in Kathmandu, Paris, New York, LA and San Francisco where important pieces were bubbling to the surface; he authorized me to start building a collection where both of our visions and sense of aesthetics would enrich the partnership.



For the next ten years we built up a group of some 75 masks that has since been identified as one of the finest collections in the world.

We had a great break for which I remain ever thankful to Alan Marcuson, then editor andpublisher of Hali Magazine for whom I had been doing some writing on textiles.

Alan came to view Mort’s collection in Corte Madera, and while there he invited me to join in a special project, the Hali Annual, an oversized hard bound issue on Asian Art.

And Alan thought the masks of the Himalayas would be a very complementary subject to the other topics planned which would feature great scholars writing longer, more in depth articles, with a greater number of photo illustrations possible.

The Godfather had made me an offer I could not refuse!

I worked like crazy to meet his deadline and somehow the Force was with me.

I proposed Classical, Village and Primitive-Shamanic mask groups and situated them into a greater Asian cultural context.

The history of religion, from Siberian Shamanism to early Buddhism was considered in relation to mask rituals, which also served to convey spiritual messages to an often pre-literate people.

The essay was very well received and is now considered a standard text in the field.

So too, the brilliant photography by Don Tuttle permitted the masks to truly be seen as art for one of the first times ever in print.

And as great an opportunity that we understood it to be, none of us could imagine the 1995 article, 

Demons and Deities-Masks of the Himalayas by this author, would help define aesthetic classicism and establish the now revered Mort Golub provenance, most especially in Europe which is home to the revival of Himalayan mask appreciation.

This article is now available on line:

About half way into this ten-year phase of acquisition, I noticed Mort had begun to assemble sculptures and masks out of found objects; pieces of rusty metal and old pieces of wood he found at the beach.

He scoured the flea market looking now for objects with shape and form that spoke to him, old metal tools and wood hat forms, to name just a few of the items.

Through an internal creative alchemy he would transform these discarded shards of our consumer society into compelling, visionary art.

And as his body of work grew, it became clear that something very special was happening: Mort had gone from collecting art to making it!

And the art he was making was not only good, it was truly inspired!

Mrs. Markbreiter of Arts of Asia heard about Mort’s work and invited him to write for her magazine and he produced, 

Transforming Masks, which came out in the April 1999 issue.

MGo 43 - front2.jpg


In it he described how collecting transformation masks of the Himalayas had in fact transformed him.

And in this article for the first time his artwork was published together with the tribal and monastic works that inspired his creations.

This was an important declaration of his values as a collector and as an artist.

His sources of inspiration extend far beyond the Tibetan plateau, to Siberia, Japan, Indonesia, Alaska, Africa, the Americas, Oceania and the artwork of Paleolithic man found in caves of Eurasia.

This Arts of Asia article is now available on line:

Real life intervened as it often does, and about the turn of the millennium Mort found he had to part with sections of his collection to cover obligations to his ex-wife,  unthinkable at one point but now, thanks to the satisfactions that came from making his own masks, far easier to let go.

This aligned with a stronger interest in Europe, with collectors and dealers flying over from Paris and Brussels to try to seduce one or more masks out from Mort’s collection.

And many of those Europeans took pieces of Mort’s homemade sculptures back to the Continent where he is now relatively well represented in some famed private collections thanks in part to the publisher of yet another magazine, Alex Arthur of Tribal Arts, singing his praises!

Mort Golub’s artwork came to the attention of Cavin Morris Gallery of New York City.

Randall and Shari have an exceptional and very broad ranging perception of art, from the New Guinea highlands to contemporary Japanese ceramics; theirs is an eye with a keen aesthetic.

One of their long held areas of interest is works by self-taught artists, sometimes known rather inadequately as Outsider Art.

When they saw Mort’s work on a visit to the Bay Area they immediately recognized his talent and offered him a show.

From that original success, their gallery has represented him in New York now for the past ten years, to Mort’s great pleasure and appreciation.

The saga continued with an exhibition in Paris and

bilingual English-French publication by this author, Masks of Fabled Lands, for the 2009 Parcours des Mondes went from strength to strength, exploring in greater depth some of the Jungian themes and psychic principles that underlie the making of masks, be it then or now.

Himalayan masks from the Golub collection were among those featured, capturing the attention of yet another generation of mask lovers and setting a high bar for future collectors to follow.

I close now giving thanks to Caskey Lees for inviting me to tell this story in words and works of art to a whole new audience that maybe unfamiliar with Mort Golub or the masks from various lands that inspired his creations.

But this rare and important privilege comes not simply because looking at traditional masks in relation to the oeuvres of a self-taught artist is fascinating in and of itself; it comes because Elizabeth Lees as the producer, Mort as the artist and myself as the curator want to convey that collecting art can change life for the better, can enrich the soul and inspire greatness and creativity.

And so it is that in telling of Mort’s  collecting and then the process of his metamorphosis, we find an archetypal story of the hero who struggles with his destiny and emerges a true artist, a tale for all of us of creativity arising from within…

And it all started with buying a mask…

Thomas Murray


The author offers great thanks to the following people:

Sylvie Reynolds, Marcia Loeb, Bob & Clare, Sonia Lovewell, Nora Stratton and Mort Golub without whose help this would not have been possible.



Mahakala mask,  height 11 inches

Photo Don Tuttle courtesy of Thomas Murray


Primitive Shamanic Mask 

Middle Hills, Nepal


19th/ early 20th Century

10 in/25.4 cm

Photo Don Tuttle courtesy of Thomas Murray



2013/7 2013 Wood, metal 9.6 inches


Mort Golub

Photo Nora Stratton  courtesy of

Thomas Murray


Citipati “Lord of the Cemetery” 

Nepal, Tibet or Bhutan


19th/early 20th Century

8 in/ 20.3 cm

Photo Don Tuttle courtesy of Thomas Murray




Wood, 7.6 inches


Mort Golub

 Courtesy of

Cavin Morris Gallery

New York