Sakura – Asian Woman Red

January on Mayne island is tranquil, some might say slow, while others still might find it boring, decrying the relative lack of urban distractions or warm summertime activities. The full time population of roughly 1,000 – which can swell to 2500+ in the busy summer season – likely drops to 7 or 8 hundred as sun seekers migrate to points south.

It’s mid-January 2014 and I am not bored. Each weekend as I commute from Vancouver to Mayne I have a myriad of engaging tasks and creative activities to keep my mind active and my body moving. At this point – just 2 months into the setting up of my studio Shavasana – I am: working on some signage projects; putting together a business Facebook page; planning some gardening in a few beds I’ve created and a 6′ x 12′ raised vegetable garden that I’ve inherited; in discussions to co-manage a Yoga retreat; searching for new “Antlers for Art”; meeting a flurry of residents of this bucolic sanctuary, and making some art – in the form of necklaces and masks.

I had just completed mask # 4 –  Chaac – in early January and was now researching imagery and sketching possible faces for the elusive Asian Woman Red which would become Mask # 5. Asian Woman Red came with some new technical challenges. Unlike previous masks, which were adorned with deer antlers, AWR was being given the distinction of sporting Bighorn Sheep Horns*. Due to their size and hollow nature, and the fact that I use glue sparingly, made attaching the horns to Asian Woman Red  fullsizeoutput_13

especially challenging. My preferred method of attaching antlers involves drilling a hole at the base of each antler, running a thin copper wire through the hole and affixing it to the mask via holes in the skull which are then “tied off” inside the mask cavity. As this was not possible with the Horns, I wound up affixing wooden blocks within the hollow horns, drilling two holes in each and then running the copper wires through the blocks and into the skull to provide more stability. Here’s a little video illustrating day one of working the clay and a look at the big horn mask attachments:

Here is another video showing the final look of Asian Woman Red before curing and firing. You’ll note that the clay is still moist and a few touch ups are needed – but the hoped for outcome is close.

It’s always necessary to let the mask cure for a week or two to ensure that there is no moisture left in the clay when it goes into the kiln. This can lead to the mask exploding upon firing, a lesson I learned the hard way in the early days of my mask enthusiasm (see: Mask Making – Abraham Maslowe’s Exploding Head ) . Once I feel confident that the mask is dry and that no cracks have formed in the clay which need repair, I take the mask to my friend John who runs a little business in Kitsilano called You Paint, I Fire . It is here that I will have AWR fired, as I have done for all masks thus far with the exception of Tuatha. John is a very congenial fellow and it’s always a pleasure working with him on my creations. There is always a danger that some undetected inconsistency in the clay will lead to “mask failure”…some irreparable disaster that ruins all of one’s efforts. Thus far, with John at the helm, I’ve been fortunate.

Asian Woman Red came out beautifully – unscathed from her trial by fire. I stuffed her into my backpack for the foot passenger journey back to Mayne Island where the horns awaited attachment and my paints were ready for the final adornment of the “vision” (since Chaac I have chosen to paint my masks as I feel it gives me greater control over the colouration and final outcome)

Over several months as I pondered this new member of my studio, I found myself drawn to Geisha imagery for colouration – specifically the light rose pancake makeup that they wear. Also the name Sakura – which means Cherry Blossom in Japanese – seemed to dovetail nicely with the evolving look of Mask # 5. I’ve always had a soft spot for Japanese culture having grown up in a family that counted many Japanese families among our dearest friends. I also learned how to sing a traditional Japanese song called, “Sakura, Sakura” in grade school, which I can belt out to this day 🙂

Sakura’s look is a little mysterious and sensual, she gazes at you through her heavily lidded eyes down her elongated nose. The Horns are symbols of strength and power which would dissuade all but the most ardent to attempt a kiss of her red passionate lips…here is the final image, adorned with some of my more delicate wishbone necklaces



*I am not a hunter. All of my antlers and horns have been donated or – in rare instances – purchased. The Big Horn sheep horns were owned by my ex-wife and I received them from my son when she passed away in 2013…I don’t know if the sheep was hunted or died from natural causes. The horns are branded with the number: M6

Chaac – Life of It’s Own

It’s Friday January 10, 2014 and I am beginning to work on Mask #4. This will be my second effort at creating a female image. Perhaps my will to do so was not as strong as the will of the clay to come forth as a male, but #4 was decidedly not feminine right from its inception. Perhaps this also reflected my skill level at the time, or that many diverse images were floating through my consciousness, and that there was no great rush to prevent #4 from being born with whatever visage the clay offered up. I didn’t fight it, it seemed to have a life of it’s own. As it took shape it became quite apparent that this mask was not going to become the elusive “Asian Woman Red” that I had first sought when I was creating Mask #3 – Rinpoche.

One of the many mask images that I wanted to create can be loosely defined as “North and/or Central American indigenous male”. I had a general preconception of such a face as I was hoping to effect, and also spent a considerable amount of time researching and reviewing imagery which is now so plentiful online. It’s all there, and I eventually found myself drawn to Huron and Mayan faces.

With a mind to glazing and coloration of the final “look”, I was drawn to the repeated use of red face paint that I found online – primarily the upper part of the face with additional details in either white or black. This usage doesn’t appear to cross the border into Mayan territory, where facial adornment has a completely different cultural style and meaning.

It wasn’t until after Mask #4 came out of the Kiln and was fired, glazed & painted that the Mayan name Chaac returned to me from deep memory. As one who had been exposed to global culture since childhood – by way of National Geographic magazine, the pre-Columbian Mesoamerican statue of a Chacmool had resided within me for some time and was now finding a way to enter my creative space as a name for one of my masks. Although the Chacmool, “symbolised slain warriors carrying offerings to the gods”, the name “Chaac” refers specifically the the Mayan rain deity, who:

“Like other Maya gods, Chaac is both one and manifold. Four Chaacs are based in the cardinal directions and wear the directional colors. In 16th-century Yucatán, the directional Chaac of the east was called Chac Xib Chaac ‘Red Man Chaac’,”…Here is the final outcome of Red Man Chaac with antlers, and adorned with one of my necklaces.