Niagara Gazette

Niagara Living

October 3, 2008

ADVENTURES OF A MASK MAKER: Letter of gratitude changes the life of a Tonawanda artist

Might one expect a story about a maskmaker to be just a little bit magical?

After all, masks are often worn by those seeking to infuse their lives with color, drama and adventure.

Andrea Masse-Tognetti of the Town of Tonawanda doesn’t wear the colorful, handmade leather masks she creates. But the exotic, otherworldly creations are a special part of her story, icons of the serendipitous events that pulled her from the depths of despair and thrust her into an international adventure beyond her dreams.

It all started the way many such tales begin, with a sad turn of events. A health crisis last year waylaid her, and she spent day after day battling depression while she weakly plugged away at her maskmaking, barely able to sit in a chair.

One day, she got an e-mail from a online friend in Japan with a clip from a popular Japanese reality TV show called “Sasuke.”

“She sent me a YouTube clip of a man doing the craziest obstacle course that you can imagine. And he was so joyful about it, smiling and waving to his friends, I was completely blown away.” she said. “I thought to myself that if this little guy can do all this amazing stuff, surely I can get out of bed and ride my bike.”

She was so inspired by the man that she wrote him a fan letter. That letter started a chain of events that opened her life as if she’d hit the secret catch on a locked jewel box.

She began biking up to 30 miles a day and lifting weights. She lost 50 pounds and got her strength back.

Her brother, an artist in Las Vegas who had, coincidentally, done work for the company that produces the show, surprised her with a trip to Japan. Once there, she was stunned when he took her to the set of the show and she got to meet the contestant — Makoto Nagano, a fisherman who is a huge celebrity in Japan.

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