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man holding mask sculpture made of shoes

What expressions do you see on these masks?

Each one has soul, says artist Willie Cole—and sole. To make these faces, Cole bought women’s shoes from a thrift store. He often works with preowned items, infused with the stories of their former owners: the wedding where that pair of stilettos was worn, for example, or the funeral that called for something simple with closed toes. Cole assembled the used shoes in his studio, working without a plan, trying this and that until the footwear transformed into masks. What parts of shoes did he choose for the eyes, ears, lips, and other features of each mask?

About the Artist

“There’s knowledge in this art, but there’s also illusion here.” —Willie Cole

New Jerseyan Willie Cole, who calls himself a perceptual engineer, has spent decades experimenting with found objects: from irons and ironing boards representing the women of his family (employed as domestic workers) to plastic bottles used to craft chandeliers.