By Olivia Yepez
They say life begins at 40. But 50 was the magic number for Mary Jane Piccuirro’s art career.
That’s when she found her passion, mask-making.
Her tribal-themed animal masks, inspired by photos in National Geographic, will be available for sale this weekend at the 43rd annual Morristown CraftMarket, showcasing more than 120 artists in a benefit for charities of the Kiwanis Club of Randolph.
“When I was young, I always loved to draw animals and I was intrigued by different cultures,” said Piccuirro, a West Hurley, NY, resident who will be exhibiting with her husband, painter Joel Zaretsky, who makes collages on rag boards.
Piccuirro always preferred drawing inside to playing outside when she was young. After exploring many mediums over the years, and supporting herself via juried art shows, she discovered mask-making in the late 1990s. It was joyful, she said, because “it incorporated everything I loved as a child. It went full circle.”
The self-taught artist won an “Honoring the Future” sustainability award at last year’s Smithsonian Craft Show for her masks, made of recycled papier-mâché and other discarded materials.
All of her masks are one-of-a-kind. After creating the base mask, Piccuirro said, she often stares at it for hours until it tells her what it wants to be.
Her inspirations include Photo Ark, a book by Joel Sartore published by National Geographic that features pictures of various animals, and dotted paint designs she saw in another National Geographic spread about New Guinea.
Other popular sellers, she said, come from her “Spirit in the Forest” collection, featuring masks covered in birch bark or hornet nests. (No insects are harmed; hornets abandon their nests, she said.)
People often ask if these pieces are solid birch. But Piccuirro said she actually fits pieces together like a puzzle to create that effect.
The Morristown CraftMarket fills the Morristown Armory from 4-8 pm this Friday, Oct. 18, 2019; from 10 am to 6 pm on Saturday, Oct. 19; and from 10 am to 5 pm on Sunday, Oct. 20. Daily admission is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors, and free for children 12 and under when accompanied by an adult. The armory is at 430 Western Ave. in Morris Township. Parking is free.
MorristownGreen.com correspondent Olivia Yepez is an honors student at Drew University (’22), where she is an editor of The Acorn.