International Mask and Puppet Museum in Syracuse, New York

When I saw the 6-foot mask outside the Victorian mansion that houses the International Mask and Puppet Museum in Syracuse, New York, I couldn't help but grin.

Open Hand Theater, which uses masks and puppets in its imaginative productions based on fables and folk tales, runs the museum and a gift shop. The diverse, vibrant collection goes well beyond ordinary costume masks and children's puppets -- it showcases items used around the world for dance rituals, ceremonies and art.

Exhibits change frequently. But during my visit, I saw exotic South Asian masks used in black magic rituals... marionettes and shadow puppets... Mexican "Day of the Dead" artifacts... painstakingly crafted Balinese and African masks ... and even a few unusual folk instruments.

Syracuse is located in central upstate New York, where I-81 and I-90 meet. The museum ( 518 Prospect Ave.) is open Monday through Friday by appointment, and from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. the first three Saturdays of each month; puppet shows are performed at 11 a.m. on those days.

Admission is free; puppet shows are $7 for adults and $5 for children through age 16. For tickets or further information, call 1-315-476-0466.

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