If you walked into Laura Jozwiak’s Lake in the Hills home, you would see barren walls void of any pictures or decorations.
She likes it that way and explains that it is related to the home where she grew up in Evanston.
Her father, George Wolf, collected masks and other figurines from around the world during his travels. By the time he died two years ago at age 76, he had acquired more than 300 pieces of carved and painted wood. Some were adorned with fabric, sea shells, beads, or grass to resemble hair.
“He searched every week for these treasures that he loved and displayed on every wall in the house where I grew up,” said Jozwiak, who has lived with her two daughters and husband in Lake in the Hills for the past 10 years.
“I bet the bathroom had 10 masks in it,” she said.
Jozwiak remembers her father's collection first appeared in the back room, which she and her three siblings eventually dubbed “the voodoo room.” The kids joked that no one would ever attempt to burglarize their home because it was too “creepy,” she said.
“All my friends thought it was a little odd,” Jozwiak said.
As the years passed, the collection grew, and soon masks were hanging on every wall in the house. Some were from Asia, others from Africa.
“Although there were many ‘eyes’ watching us from the walls, it was very unique and interesting,” Jozwiak said. “My mom went along with it because my dad loved them.”
Her dad bought pieces from estate sales, antique shops and flea markets. Many he purchased while traveling in Europe. Some were antiques, some newer and brightly colored. Others were battered over time, she said.
The collection included a Zimbabwe death mask and a few bamboo stump carving masks, a type of Chinese folk art with whimsical faces representing heroes and gods. One appears to be made from a coconut shell, others from old wood that’s been shaved and smoothed.
“When my dad passed, I kept my favorite masks and my kids picked out theirs,” Jozwiak said. “My mom lives in a nursing home now, and her room is decorated with her favorites. But no one in the family wanted to take the rest of the collection — it was just too painful to hold onto and look at every day. I couldn’t separate from them because of the importance to my dad and how unique they really are.”
Jozwiak moved the collection, packed in boxes, from room to room in her house and then into storage. Eventually, she decided to part with some masks so that other people could hang them in their homes and enjoy them like her father did.
She brought the collection to the pre-owned furniture store, 561 Jennings Drive, just off Pyott Road in Lake in the Hills (north of Rakow Road). Owner Bev DeGreve selected about 40 masks she thought her customers would appreciate.
“I decided to buy the masks because of their originality and uniqueness,” DeGreve said. “I offer unusual things in the shop, and I felt with the interest in African design in home decorating that these would be a great complement to a home with this sort of theme.”
DeGreve already has sold a few of the pieces, and customers seem intrigued by them.
“It is my hope that they end up in homes that appreciate this sort of art form,” DeGreve said.
When Jozwiak recently returned to the shop, she was breath-taken by the way DeGreve had displayed the masks in a makeshift dining room setting.
“I was overcome when I walked into the shop,” she said. “That’s exactly how my dining room looked growing up. That’s exactly how my dad had them."
Jozwiak said letting go of a few of the masks has brought her some happiness.
“It really means a lot to me to honor my dad and his masks,” she said.