Creating identity - one paper strip at a time

Juneau's Charles Buggs, 'the maskman,' has devoted much of his 30 years of art experience to making inexpensive paper masks

Posted: Thursday, October 23, 2003

Years ago, before he was known as "the maskman," Juneau artist Charles Buggs was a fine arts student at Howard University in a course called "Methods and Materials of Art."

The class assignment one day: create an art project, for less than $10 in materials, that could be taught to junior high school students.

Buggs had a part-time job working in a mail room for the federal government, and one day, in between deliveries, he began to tinker with some paper strips.

"I started putting them together and trying to make a catcher's mask and across the street was an arts and crafts store," Buggs said. "I bought some white school paste, and that's how I created the first shell. I did that first mask, and it just blew my mind."

The professor was impressed and encouraged Buggs to write up the schematics for the Washington, D.C., school system.

The mask template - or armature - didn't catch on at the time, but Buggs has devoted much of his art over the past three decades to making inexpensive paper marks and teaching his technique to anyone who wants to know. He will conduct a demonstration at Rainy Day Books on Seward Street downtown at 5 p.m. Friday, Oct. 24.

"I'm doing this demo mainly because I want parents to see this," said Buggs, a former schoolteacher in Washington, D.C. "Parents can teach the kids, and it's so simple. It's another activity that anybody can work on and take up some of their time in the dark months.

"My motivation all along has been not to make money off this, but just to teach a more effective way of making a mask," he said. "A lot of people, when they're decorating their homes, would like some masks hanging at their homes. Any kind of mask that you can carve you can make in this method."

Why are masks still important?

"Every culture, every race has a mask of some form or another," Buggs said. "It has a method and it has a magic. Some kids like the idea that they can make a mask that they can use for Halloween or to obscure their face in some way. And I tell the kids, when you're making a mask you have total freedom."

Since retiring as a mental health case manager for the city, Buggs has taught demonstrations at schools throughout Juneau, including Dzantik'i Heeni and Floyd Dryden middle schools. The only rule is that there are no rules.

"I tell the kids to use your imagination," Buggs said. "One kid came to me one day at Floyd Dryden, and said I have an idea for some eyes and I was wondering if you'd help me. This kid had broken the bowl of two plastic spoons and attached them to the mask. I was blown away. And of course, it got around. All the kids were asking for plastic spoons."

• Korry Keeker can be reached at

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