These masks were brought to the United States by a group of dancers, who performed at the World's Columbian Exposition at Chicago in 1893. Such masks are worn by actors in traditional dance dramas known as wayang topeng. The dancers were from the island of Java in Indonesia. While in Chicago they resided in the Java Village, which was organized and financed by the colonial government of the Netherland's East Indies as Indonesia was known in those days. One hundred twenty dancers, musicians, and ordinary rural people from West and Central Java spent about nine months at the Exposition in Chicago.
The Javanese Village (there were also villages of Northwest Coast Indians, Germans, Japanese and many others) was one of the most popular attractions at the Exposition. Reportedly, Chicago was equally popular with the Javanese village people, who had a good time and talked about their experience for many years after returning to Java.
Image above: Drama masks (topeng) from West and Central Java, Indonesia, c.1880. Used in a wayang topeng dance drama in the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. About 80 such masks are in the collection of The Field Museum. Carved from soft wood and painted in traditional patterns and colors, they are among the oldest and most beautiful Indonesian masks in the United States. Catalog Numbers 3.36129, 3.36060, and 3.36054. © The Field Museum, GN91437_14d, Photographer John Weinstein.