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These Carved Wooden Masks Borrow From Disparate Traditions

Artist and designer Lubo Brezina’s work conjures up hockey and theatre in beautiful forms

By Gregory Furgala
Photography by Daniel Ehrenworth

Out on the ice in the late ‘60s, Gerry Cheevers looked terrifying. Though aggressive, the Boston Bruins goaltender wasn’t particularly imposing, nor was he a “goon.” But his mask was the stuff of nightmares. Exaggerated black “stitches” criss-crossed the stark white surface – one for each time he was struck in the face by a puck – giving him an air of the supernatural. Goalies have decorated their masks ever since, incorporating everything from royal iconography to Led Zeppelin lyrics. Always, though, there’s been a bit of theatricality. But no goalie masks are quite like Lubo Brezina’s.

wooden mask

Carved out of basswood, Brezina’s masks are vivid, expressive and otherworldly, each one a small piece of drama in its own right – which is appropriate given his other inspiration, Japanese Noh theatre. The traditional form has roots that go as far back as the 14th century and is famous for its use of wooden masks. Carved from Japanese cypress, each Noh mask – there are around 450 of them – has a different set of signifiers, from age to social status to mood. Others represent ghosts and demons.

wooden mask

Brezina’s aren’t so rigidly codified (or so numerous), and instead represent different NHL teams. Drawing from their histories and team colours, he approaches each with only an inkling of the result, cutting the wood to size, marking it, then getting to work with hand tools. “I never have a concrete idea early on,” says Brezina of his process. “If I do it organically, I may come up with an idea that I never thought of before.”

The end result is a singular blending of traditions. Like Noh masks, they are quite thin – Brezina has gone as far as throwing a mask onto a fire to burn out the inside. But their attachment to hockey is unmistakable, with the “Original Six,” plus a few other teams, all represented.

Some are clownish, others are regal. Some are cheekier than others: one Maple Leafs mask, inspired by a Noh demon, has a particularly angry cast since, Brezina reasons, the Leafs need to play that way if they want to win a Stanley Cup again – a sentiment with which long-suffering fans of the team will surely agree. LUBODESIGN.COM


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