Niagara Gazette

October 3, 2008

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

By Michele Deluca<br><a href="mailto:delucam@gnnewspaper.com">E-mail Michele</a>

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.

“Wait, it gets better,” she said recently while recounting the events that have turned her life around. “You can’t just change one little thing about your life. When you change something that goes that deeply into your heart, it changes everything.”

A mask she had sent to the producer of the show in gratitude for allowing her to visit has inspired a business relationship that may lead to what she calls and “extraordinary opportunity” she cannot yet talk about.

Synchronistically, a handmade art Web site called ETSY, which she found when she was sick, began sending people her way.

She was contacted by the creators of a new Web site called seekingdesigners.com which offered her a free membership so they could use her masks to provide graphic drama to their pages. Because of that exposure, she got a letter from a celebrity stylist who used her masks in a glamorous photo shoot that has yet to be published. An editor of another magazine, called Weird Tales, wrote an article about her.

“These things kept happening to me. I couldn’t believe it,” she said.

The opportunities that have arisen since she wrote a letter of gratitude to a simple Japanese fisherman have taught her an important lesson about life, she said.

“I let people know now that they move me, that they inspire me,” she said. “It never really hurts to tell people when they’re special, when they’ve done something for you, even if you don’t even know them.”

And these days, while working hard to create the masks that more and more people seem to want, she is simply expecting more surprises.

“I feel like everything keeps opening up for me,” she said, smiling, “like a flower.”

Contact editor Michele DeLuca at 693-1000, ext. 157.