Janet Rothholz might make masks in her spare time, but she’s not hiding behind one.
Instead, the Riverdale artist has spent nearly 20 years putting her feelings out into the open by using her love of people-watching to construct her own images onto ceramic masks she’s created using materials ranging from acrylics to metal.
Rothholz’s first foray into mask-making began when she tried to create a coil vase that somehow became a coiled head instead.
“It was this key that unlocked this incredible outpouring of work in terms of heads and masks,” she said. “It was sort of like I opened up the door to all of the people who were living inside of me.”
Since then, Rothholz has found that her work is inspired by more than just her love of looking at others. It’s inspired by a mixture of different European countries her family is from, cultural traditions from all over the world, and sometimes even a problem she’s trying to solve in her life.
“They’re not really masks in the traditional sense,” she said. “They’re more like my people. And they express my feelings, my thoughts, (and) where I am in my life.”
A collection of Rothholz’s ceramic masks is currently on display at Buunni Coffee’s 3702 Riverdale Ave., location through July 28.
Each of the masks featured at Buunni tell a different story. One that stands out to Rothholz is “Modern Antiquity,” a piece inspired by ancient Greek art. While the mask looks like it has the aesthetic qualities of ancient art, what people don’t know unless they look closer is that Rothholz took an electric typewriting ball and etched each letter of the alphabet into the mask when the clay was wet.
“It’s this really interesting mix of something that kind of looks ancient, like it was just dug up, and something modern,” she said.
The reception to Rothholz’s work can go one of two ways: People can glance at the masks and just walk away, or they can stand and admire it.
“When people do get the work and do like it, they love it,” she said.
Rothholz hopes people walk away from her work feeling they either connected with a face they see, or that a mask helps them understand the world in a broader sense.
“We’re all one and we all influence each other, and it’d be nice if people could see that,” she said. “We’re not this or that, we’re complex beings that are more similar than we are different.”
Rothholz’s main desire for her masks is to have more people enjoy them.
“The goal is not to sell,” she said. “The goal is to get my work out into the world and have it seen. I know that may sound crazy, but it would give me unending joy to have a piece hanging in a museum.”
When Rothholz isn’t pursuing her art, she works in IT at a law firm. She’s not only thankful she’s received support from her colleagues, but that it’s afforded her the freedom to be creative and work on other goals, like making bigger masks and experimenting with different materials.
“It’s my passion,” she said, “and if I am not making art, I am depressed.”
And while people tell her they can’t imagine making their own art, Rothholz thinks everyone can bring out their imaginative side if they find the time and motivation to do it.
“I think we all have this internal wellspring of creative energy, and you just have to figure out how to tap into it,” Rothholz said. “And I feel really fortunate that I was able to tap into it.”