How do I care for this wooden art mask?
October 19, 2013 11:57 AM   Subscribe

I have a nice hand carved wooden Boruca mask from Costa Rica that I got in 2011. Unfortunately, I've noticed that the wood seems to be drying out, and in some places, even cracking. I know it is authentic (e.g. not tourist crap from China) as it was bought at an indigenous reserve/cooperative and I saw them being made, but was not able to learn what kind of wood it was carved from (though likely balsa or cedar?) or get any instructions on care. It is unpainted, just solid wood. Any idea how to care for this piece of art? Does it need oiling? How would I do that?
posted by juniperesque to Grab Bag (4 answers total)
From the wikipedia page on the Boruca people it seems likely to be balsa wood. You can check that picking it up and seeing if it feels substantially lighter than that amount of wood seems like it should weigh. It should be an almost floating out of your hands feeling. (Cedar, on the other hand, should smell aromatic, a bit like an incense.) If you can check to make sure what kind of wood your mask is, that should make searching for care on it easier.
posted by Margalo Epps at 12:49 PM on October 19, 2013

This is just generic advice about wood: if the wooden object is from a much more humid climate (and thus not cured to withstand the dry), it is likely drying out due to climate change, rather than a flaw in manufacturing. My inlaws have some antique wooden furniture from the UK which was damaged by the dry climate of inland Canada - largely by cracking, inlay popping out.

It's also notorious that wooden instruments crack going from a humid to a dry climate; these days, a lot of instruments are made in a dry climate and sold around the world.

If this is the case, you could try up run a humidifier where the mask is. I don't know if there are any treatments like oil that would help.
posted by jb at 1:10 PM on October 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

With central heating and cold and dry Midwestern winters (or Scandinavian, in my case), buying a humidifier is your only option for this type of problem.
(I'm having musical instruments in my house and I'm using Venta humidifiers to keep things in order; they're quiet and effective).
posted by Namlit at 2:49 PM on October 19, 2013

You might want to look at guitar humidifiers in addition to a humidifier for the room. They're basically just a tube full of holes with a sponge inside. You periodically soak the sponge in water and put it inside the guitar. We've made them ourselves by drilling holes into a plastic bottle and putting a sponge inside the bottle.
posted by hannahelastic at 7:19 PM on October 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

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