Mask Making – Abraham Maslow’s Exploding Head

It’s 1976 and I am a new student at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby working towards my Bachelor of Arts degree. Like most first year students pursuing a liberal arts education, I enrolled in the obligatory “101 Courses” – Sociology 101, Philosophy 101, Political Science 101, and Psychology 101. These introductory courses give one a brief overview of each discipline – a glimpse of the significant ideas, and of the great minds and leaders that contributed so profoundly to each school of thought. Like many a young undergrad, I embraced certain great thinkers and their work with the enthusiasm of the newly-informed. Psych 101 introduced me to Abraham Maslow and his theory known as “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow%27s_hierarchy_of_needs ) …which I found stimulating and enlightening and caused me to faun over “all things Maslow” …for a while at least.

Abraham Maslow.jpg

With the fervor of an acolyte, I felt that I would show my deep admiration for my new Psych 101 Guru with the creation of a graven image in his honor – I would buy a big lump of clay and sculpt a ceramic likeness of him which I would put on my mantle for all to see…this would be my second attempt at mask/bust making since high school….and really, how could you not want to – just look at that face! 🙂

I went out and got my materials and set to work. Twenty pounds or so of grey, cold, wet clay which I would squish and pound and flatten, mold and sculpt into a reasonable likeness of my love object – Abraham Maslow ❤ Within days I had crafted a wonderful 3-dimensional bust of Dr. M. which I left it out to dry in the kitchen of the house I shared with friends in New Westminster.

But where to take if for firing? I didn’t have a kiln but I knew my good friend Doug W. shared one with his father as they were both into making ceramic plates and bowls on the potter’s wheel, which they also co-owned. “No problem”, said Doug, “Dad and I are firing a batch of new plates and bowls which we’ve just made – why don’t you stick your head in the kiln and we’ll fire it for you” …potter’s say such things 🙂 So I put Abraham under my arm and trudged off to Doug’s kiln place in Burnaby. All seemed in order…kiln full of lovely plates and bowls…glazed and ready to be baked. I gingerly placed dear Abraham Maslow in the oven…closed the door and turned up the heat.

I don’t recall how long the firing process was. Maybe we hung around and visited…played some guitar…maybe I tried to convert Doug with the newfound wisdom that I had garnered from my Psych 101 course. Perhaps I went home and came back later at the appointed hour when the contents of the kiln had cooled down enough that it could be opened safely. Whatever the timing, when we finally opened the kiln like expectant children on Christmas morning, there it was… Abraham Maslow’s exploded head lying in pieces and shards, inextricably fused into the molten glazing which adorned Doug & his Dad’s beautiful ceramic efforts…

We stood in silence looking at the debacle inside the kiln. Doug and his father were too polite to get angry or cast blame, but I knew that the fault lay with Maslow & Me – so, of course, I blamed Maslow…”Well Dougie,” I said ”it seems clear to me that once Maslow had secured his basic physiological needs, and that the needs of safety, love and esteem had been achieved his efforts at self-actualization and self transcendence proved too much for him”…”and his head just exploded”…”the heat of the kiln likely expanded a cranium already filled with large and important ideas and it just burst…happens all the time”…

Doug and his father didn’t appear to be listening but were gingerly removing their pottery in hopes of salvaging some of their pieces. “Did you work & knead the clay before you started to sculpt your bust?”, asked Doug’s father, “it’s critical to do this to work out the air bubbles in the clay which can expand and explode during the firing process”… “Uuh…air bubbles?” I squeaked. “Uuh…yeah, I think so”…I peeked in and noticed that one of Maslow’s ears and the bridge of his nose were intact so I salvaged them as reminders of the “air bubble thing” if I ever delved into clay work again. Doug and his father kept one of the Maslow-splattered plates as a reminder to only share their kiln with ceramicists who actually knew what they were doing. Here’s one of the pieces of Maslow that I kept as a memento of my second attempt at mask making…

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