Mask Making – Túatha the Prototype

The idea of creating human-likeness ceramic masks with deer antlers, (germinated the night of “The Seminal Moment” – https://clayandbone.com/2017/04/20/mask-making-the-seminal-moment/ ), didn’t evaporate with my morning-after hangover…like so many of my other ill-conceived ideas. The two pictures of Ben B. sporting makeshift branch antlers remained on my kitchen corkboard (Good Ben, Evil Ben) and served as constant reminders of the events of that evening. As it had been many years since my last mask-making attempt (which ended in tragi-comic disaster: https://clayandbone.com/2017/04/30/mask-making-abraham-maslows-exploding-head/  ) I thought it best to enroll in a clay-sculpting course, and found one being offered at Delbrook Community Centre in North Vancouver, taught by “Louisa”. Obtaining the appropriate clay was as simple as dropping in to any one of the many art supply stores in this town. But where does one find antlers? Mr. Internet was a great help, as was Steve Kulash Taxidermy (located then) on Kingsway in Burnaby. I bought 3 sets of deer antlers, of varying shapes and sizes, to help visualize and conceptualize the final product.

I studied sculpting techniques and researched various facial types to get the particular look I was after…sketching, copying or cutting out imagery from rare Library books (kidding!) I also expanded my understanding of the mythical pagan-era deities which sported horns and antlers – the Celtic Cernunnos (antlers), Greek Pan (horns), and the Roman Faunus (horns). It is interesting to note that these pagan deities, which primarily represented benign Gods of nature, forest, stream and fertility, had their imagery hijacked sometime during the Christian era when horned beings came to represent evil, or, the Devil. I’m not sure if this was a conscious and purposeful effort on the part of the church to blacken the benevolent reputation of these pagan deities, if so, it was a cynical reworking of history and a manipulation of indigenous beliefs.

Initially – on the first series of masks – I was trying to avoid the use of powerful glues to affix the antlers to the fired ceramic clay. To accomplish this, I designed a method by which I could: drill a small hole at the base of each antler; run a length of bendable copper wire through the hole; and run the wire through holes in the skull which were then twisted together, out of sight within the cavity of the mask. This left the antlers sometimes a tad wiggly, but I preferred this to the use of inorganic materials (granted, the final glazes and paints are not organic)

Some have noted that Túatha’s image bears a resemblance to me. Although that was not my intent, I too have found the visage to share Celtic/Nordic features (my heritage) which, when combined with the copper-rust patina, reminds me of a primitive time-worn relic of some forgotten Celtic King…It was this interpretation that inspired me to call the piece – Túatha – which is Gaelic (a subset of Celtic) for polity, people, or nation.

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(This mask is available for purchase:  https://clayandbone.com/portfolio/tuatha/ )

The whole process from concept to design and finally creation was fun and interesting and I was pleased with the final product. As a prototype, Túatha was a success, and my intention was to proceed with the next mask (see: “Boko – The Influence of Events” – article under construction). But it was 2005 and a disruptive piece of life had descended upon me ( see Death Mask Parts 1 and 2 – https://clayandbone.com/2016/12/13/death-mask-troubled-dreams-on-the-road-to-clay-bone/  )…I would not return to clay sculpting and the kiln for the next 5 years.

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