Actors have performed classical Japanese theater, called Noh, since at least the 14th century. The plays are based on historical dramas and classical literature, and the actors (traditionally male) begin as young children to train in the nine levels of Noh acting. They perform in masks and silk costumes and are accompanied by a chorus. Masks signify the gender, age, social ranking, and human or nonhuman nature of the character; there are approximately 450 named mask types. Artists carve the masks from cypress and paint them with natural pigments. The mask on the left depicts a woman and the one on the right, an old man. Both were collected in 1925 and form part of the large collection of masks that U-M surgeon John Alexander donated to the Museum.
In honor of the University of Michigan’s 2017 bicentennial, we are celebrating the remarkable archaeological and ethnographic collections and rich legacy of research and teaching at the Museum of Anthropological Archaeology by posting one entry a day for 200 days. The entries will highlight objects from the collections, museum personalities, and UMMAA expeditions. The Kelsey Museum of Archaeology is also posting each day for 200 days on Twitter and Facebook (follow along at #KMA200). After the last post, an exhibition on two centuries of archaeology at U-M opens at the Kelsey. Visit the exhibit—a joint project of the UMMAA and the Kelsey—from October 18, 2017 to May 27, 2018.