Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria

When I first saw his face my immediate thought was – I must tackle this as a mask project. Look at that moustache, those steely dispassionate eyes and puffy dissolute face. For me there was something compelling about his face and I felt a need to try and recreate that in clay. Certain aspects of  “The Archdukes” lifestyle though, provided an ironic justification for wanting to see his head mounted on my wall sporting a set of Fallow Deer antlers…

If not for the widely-accepted thought that his very public assassination by Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip precipitated the start of World War 1, he may have remained a more obscure footnote in history – carrying on with the self-indulgent life of a member of the Austro-Hungarian royal family. That all changed on June 28, 1914 when he was assassinated, with his wife Sophie by his side, as they drove through the streets of Sarajevo in an open and unprotected sedan.

But it wasn’t this pivotal historical event that compelled me to proceed with my mask project. While doing a little research into other aspects of his life I came across this tidbit in Wikipedia:

“Franz Ferdinand had a fondness for trophy hunting that was excessive even by the standards of European nobility of this time.[11] In his diaries he kept track of an estimated 300,000 game kills, 5,000 of which were deer. About 100,000 trophies were on exhibit at his Bohemian castle at Konopištē…”

How is it even humanly possible to kill 300,000 animals in one lifetime? Archduke Franz Ferdinand Carl Ludwig Joseph Maria was evidently a pathological one-man extinction event and he deserved to be mounted on a wall with  sporting a beautiful pair of antlers in honour of the unlucky 5,000 deer that fell prey to his insatiable murderous hobby. I began to draw, prepare the clay and commence adding facial details:

 

Once the facial details bore an acceptable likeness to my subject I allowed the clay to cure for a week or so

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Following successful firing in the kiln (always a bit nerve wracking before it comes out in one piece) I began the process of painting The Archduke – layering shade and shadow:

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Until I felt pleased with the final outcome.

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Personally, I think that this may be my best creation to date. There is a definite evolution in my skill level and attention to detail. Not that detail and lifelike realism need to denote higher quality in a piece of art. Creativity and expression can take us down many roads, but I am pleased with this effort as it does reflect – quite closely – what I was setting out to achieve. 🙂

If you are interested in purchasing “The Archduke” it can be yours for $685.00, by ordering online through the Mask Gallery (on this website) or by visiting my studio at: www.shavasana.ca

 

Mujica

I don’t recall what led me to Mujica. The flow of information in the current era is deep and wide so my awareness of him could have come from any one of a myriad of sources. I think what impacted me the most though, about “José Alberto “Pepe” Mujica Cordano” were his heroic qualities, his remarkable story, and his relative obscurity – being all but unknown outside of Latin America.

Here is a man who – in my estimation – should be celebrated as a “Latin American Mandela” – a courageous warrior for justice who languished in squalid prisons, ultimately to be released, vindicated, and elected to the highest position in his country – Uruguay. And it is here – in a position of power – that he exhibited some of his most heroic qualities as a leader. He eschewed wealth and fame – giving most of his money to the poor; he forgave those who had oppressed him, and ultimately led by example, choosing to unite his people, by building bridges that connect rather than walls which divide – qualities of leadership which seem to be in such short supply nowadays.

As it is not my intention to write a lengthy dissertation about Mujica, I’d recommend this concise bio about his life in Wikipedia if you are interested:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jos%C3%A9_Mujica .

Although José Mujica is unaware of this, I decided to create a mask in his honour 🙂

It’s March 13, 2016 and I am finally ending the creative drought which has beset me this past year. A full 14 months has elapsed since Alan Turing’s mask and I finally feel inspired enough by the story of José Mujica to put form to clay. My friend “Hunter Bob” has kindly offered to keep me supplied with antlers as he is – quite likely – the most prolific hunter on Mayne Island**.

(**A brief word on hunting on Mayne Island…Mayne Island is in the unique position of having 2 kinds of deer to grace our little island. The black-tailed deer are one species – indigenous to the Pacific Northwest  – which have been grazing the forests and fields of this region for thousands of years. On Mayne Island they are a protected species and it is illegal to hunt them. The other species we have are Fallow Deer – which are not a native species – and were introduced some years ago by a woman wanting to raise them for commercial purposes on her farm. There is disagreement – and much debate – among islanders as to how the Fallow deer came to flee captivity. Whether they used wire cutters to get through the fencing or overpowered the guards is a topic of conversation which can lead to much consternation among longer-term residents. However their methods though, we have been left with a very prolific and omnivorous beast which is persistently and inexorably eating its way through the decorative flowerbeds of the other invasive species – humans – which reside here. It is not illegal to hunt Fallow Deer and indeed is encouraged by the local conservation society…..enter Hunter Bob. Bob loves his job. Due to the randy nature of the Fallow fellows, the rarely fallow nature of the Fallow females, and the percentage of the island which cannot be hunted – Bob knows that he will never be in short supply of targets…and I will consequently never be without antlers for art 🙂

Mujica’s face exudes character, despite his 13 years in squalid conditions in prison he gives off the air of a congenial avuncular patriarch of his people. I worked from several images that I found online…

and proceeded to create a rough sketch to work from while I sculpted. (I usually have my computer screen on as well so I can refer to the subjects facial features in greater detail – the sketch is just a general guide)

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I always pound and kneed my clay to get rid of any potential air bubbles which can – if left undetected – explode your sculpture while firing in the kiln. (I discovered this the hard way : https://clayandbone.com/2017/04/30/mask-making-abraham-maslows-exploding-head/ ) After this initial work I roll it out and flatten it – like a piece of pie dough – before I form it around one of several hand-created molds that I have made out of compacted paper. Then it’s a matter of trimming excess clay, and slowly forming your image through the addition or removal of extra pieces of clay. Eyes, nose, brows and lips and the beginnings of the contours of the face start to take shape.

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Here’s a little detail of how I attach the antlers. I drill a hole through the base of the antler and feed a copper wire through which I eventually feed through holes in the skull of the mask and “tie off” inside the cavity of the mask.

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Here’s a picture of the mask with a few of the typical tools I use to do some of the detail work…getting near completion and ready to let Mujica cure, or dry out, for a few weeks before firing

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Following drying time and successful kiln outcome, I spend some time painting the image to duplicate – as best as I can – the subjects shading & skin tone which – in this case, (unlike the black and white of Oppenheimer & Turing) is an attempt at natural colouring.

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Mujica is available for purchase from my Studio/Gallery on Mayne Island, or, online via this website:

https://clayandbone.com/portfolio/jose-mujica/

 

 

 

Garfield the One-Eyed Beach Cat

It’s a Sunday evening in late February in the fishing village of La Manzanilla and I have returned to my Hotel to escape the din of the village. I am sitting at a table in the relative cool of the outdoor foyer/patio at Puesta del Sol attempting to cobble together some thoughts. This activity – which is rather solitary – can be challenging in this sociable little family-run establishment. Guests are constantly coming and going, and Loreena the owner and her extended family are always busy running the place or contributing several generations of family activity into the lively mix. And dreams of escaping the noise are futile as there is a Latin band playing at Martin’s Restaurant next door, and EdelMira’s 4 year old daughter Aurora is cranky and letting us all know that her needs must be met. The cicadas will eventually win out with their rhythmic nighttime music, but for now at least, the band sounds just fine, and Garfield the one-eyed alley cat is nowhere in sight.

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Garfield is quite skittish, having lost a street fight with another cat which has left him with his cyclopean look. He is also farther down the pecking order than Soul – the little orange kitty who seems to run this place. I am slowly winning his affection with carefully proffered treats and kibble. Perhaps this kindness will help to diminish his fear – it’s not easy being a one-eyed cat in a beach town in Mexico.

it’s now Thursday afternoon, five days later, Aurora is happily engaged in an art project that Christine from Gabriola has put together for the kids, and Garfield is asleep in the sun

The Puesta del Sol is a small hotel of perhaps a dozen rooms on two floors surrounding an outdoor courtyard full of local tropical greenery. For some reason, the place has attracted residents from small islands off the coast of BC. At one time we had 5 Gabriolans, 2 Lasquetians, and 2 Mayne Islanders – many of whom have brought serious artistic and musical talent to this place. Foremost among these is Rick from Gabriola

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who is a wood carver by trade, and has now been commissioned by several local establishments to paint murals on their buildings. Loreena has him creating colourful  murals around the doors of the hotel rooms which Is turning this casual little hotel into a playful artistic statement…

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…and he has created a series of wall planters and colourful dioramas out of the dried leaves of coconut palms. When not making art he can be found playing guitar and singing at the hotel with other musical guests or at local restaurants – I’ve brought some blues harps and have been accompanying him on occasion. Fred from Gabriola is here with his ukulele and his daughter who is also a great violin player. Christine is making her own art and is also scoring some music to several poems that have been written by another woman in the village, and Darzo from Lasqueti was here with her intriguing voice and guitar, jamming at the hotel or performing at local open mikes. It’s a place full of music, art, the chatter of young Mexican children – and the furtive scavenging of Garfield the one-eyed beach cat.

It is now Sunday, late afternoon and I am back in the cool of the courtyard. EdelMira has stepped away from the Hotel for five minutes with her two children to feed carrots to some goats and I have – briefly – been left in charge of  the Hotel. With the children gone I can actually hear the sounds of the village and the birds chirping in the trees. As this is my second year of wintering in La Manzanilla, I have developed a small community of friends and nodding acquaintances who might pass by and say ‘Hola’ on their way to the beach or back to their homes beyond the arroyo.

It seems to be taking a long time to complete this little story. My days are full, distractions are plentiful, and the lure of sitting and writing while sunshine and beaches beckon is sporadic at best. I enjoy keeping a little journal when I travel, unfortunately the app I was using – Day One – lost all my writing from last year so I am reluctant to use it again, and have switched to paper. This WordPress effort at least allows me to post a few photos as well and to share it on Facebook – for whatever that is worth. If reading about Garfield the one-eyed cat, or the creative activities of my artistic compatriots doesn’t satisfy your need for appropriate travel commentary, here’s a pretty sunset…       🙂

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Alan Turing – Mask # 8

I am writing this from my table – roadside – at Xacalli Café in Centro La Manzanilla, Mexico. It’s late evening on Valentines Day 2018 and I am continuing on this path of writing while on the road – quite literally in this case. I seem to prefer writing in public places – cafés especially – where there is lots of life, energy and activity.

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Massive trucks roll by, returning from the new construction project in La Tamarindo, young men and women cruise along on motorbikes and ATVs with children clinging to their backs,  bands are competing for the attention of passers by, shops are still doing a brisk business, and Nellie chases her two young daughters around Xacalli Café while her and her husband continue to work tirelessly in this ever-popular place.

Although I don’t have access to my journals while in Mexico for the specific period of time when I was creating Masks #7 (Cernunnos) and #8 (Alan Turing), I can tell from my photo record that I began work on Turing immediately after completion of Cernunnos – which was mid January 2015.

A movie on Alan Turing’s life had been released in late 2014 – The Imitation Game. Knowing very little about Turing at that time, I went to the film and was moved by his story – his significant contributions to mathematics and computing science, his outstanding contribution to cracking German codes during World War 2, and hence saving countless lives and shortening the war by several years, and ultimately, his maltreatment by the British Legal system, which was still prosecuting individuals for being gay in 1952 England. His punishment – chemical castration – ruined his health and he committed suicide in relative obscurity, primarily because his heroic deeds could not be recognized & heralded for many years after the war – and his life – had ended.

In short, I was moved by his inspiring yet ultimately tragic story and decided to make a mask in his honor. For a model I chose this black and white image from Wikipedia

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Alan looks – passingly – like this sketch I created for aid in the mask-making process – (pay no attention to that right eye 🙂 )

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A little clay work…

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After firing and attaching the antlers…

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After painting and a few other touch ups, I’ve finalized my homage to Alan Turing..,

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Back at Xacalli…it’s around 9pm on February the 18th. Nellie the co-owner makes fabulous desserts and a mean cup of coffee which has become my evening treat in sobriety – as I write – in lieu of bars and clubs. The inclusion of photos from my photo library has been a little challenging on this iPad mini. Without labouring excessively on this, I may publish a few articles which will need to be doctored when I return to Vancouver and the power and convenience of my laptop.

As I continue on this journey of ceramic mask making I find that I am gravitating towards historical figures, or, individuals of note that interest me. The first 5 masks were primarily visual concepts – images – generated from my subconscious. Since Sakura, beginning with Oppenheimer, I have been more interested in paying homage to academics, political leaders or individuals who have had some influence on where we – as a culture or species – find ourselves now.

Back in Vancouver awaits Mask # 10, which is – I think – my best mask to date. It still needs firing (hopefully it will survive the kiln – always a concern for ceramicists) and, after I write up Mujica – Mask # 9, my Blog will be up to date as I move forward with new creations.

Cernunnos – Celtic God of Things

It’s early January 2015. It’s slow this time of year on Mayne so it’s a good time to turn ones focus toward creative projects. For reasons murky even to myself, I have created a series of ceramic masks adorned with horns and antlers. If I take a moment to ponder my motivations and goals for doing so, I’d say that my efforts are an amalgam of: the simple pleasure of creating with ones hands; the changes that accrue with any creative process over long periods of time; and the vague desire to impart some kind of meaning or significance to my creative process –  with varying degrees of conviction.

Somewhere during this intermittent 40-year plus exploration into ceramic mask making, antlers, somewhat playfully, arrived. Quite simply, an initial vision – of masks adorned with antlers or horns – arrived in tandem with the curiosity of how to do this without incinerating the antlers in the hellishly hot kiln. Clay was my medium of choice and I knew that it would be far too brittle to attach anything to it without hardening the clay first, through the firing process. So…mask first, antlers after, and, as I am reluctant to use glues (toxicity) I would have to create an attachment mechanism using wires threaded through drill holes in the antlers and matched with same-size holes in the “skull” of the mask, and then twisted tightly together in the hollow body of the mask.

…a side note: it seems to be taking some time to write this article. I began this several weeks ago back in Vancouver and now find myself at Roosters Café in Melaque Mexico (I prefer to write in cafes) Had a lot to contend with back in the Pacific Northwest: shutting down my Art Gallery/Studio for an indeterminate period of time; quenching multiple problematic fires that had ignited; and arranging this mid-winter trip. Also, I find that I am wrestling – unnecessarily perhaps – with the search for an explanation as to “why I adorn my ceramic masks with antlers”… I find that I am cursed with occasional bouts of meaninglessness (like…right now) which adds an extra challenge to  the task of  explaining, with any significance, the rationale behind my creativity.

So, the first several masks were an attempt to rekindle my, somewhat, dormant interest in working with clay, and to make sure that the process was successful. I had been researching and gathering faces and images that were of interest to me, and it was during this process that I spent more time – than I had previously – reading about some of the pagan deities that were depicted, historically, sporting horns and antlers. Primarily, my reading (Wikipedia is great for this) led me to: Faunus – the Roman God of forest plains and fields; Pan – the Greek God of the wild, shepherds and flocks, nature, and rustic music; and Cernunnos- the Celtic God of fertility, life, animals, wealth and the underworld. Somewhere along the journey from Paganism to Christianity these rather benign deities were expunged, and their horns were given to Christian depictions of Satan. I am not Pagan, however, being of Celtic heritage means – quite likely – that somewhere in my families distant past we honoured Cernunnos and other Celtic deities, and, like indigenous peoples everywhere had this practice removed from our culture. I’m not certain that the subsequent depiction of Satan sporting horns was an attempt to vilify these Pagan deities, but it seems to have had that effect. Horns have been hijacked! 🙂 It’s notable how many people come into my Gallery (where most of my antlered/horned masks reside) and comment on “how scary they are”. This is not my intent. A while back, I was showing pictures of my masks to an elderly friend, when he uttered, somewhat aghast, “Those are the masks of Satan!” I assured him this was not the case. Each mask is unique, as are the “meanings” behind them. Perhaps in some small – meaningless- way I am attempting to redress a wrong. Horns are harmless, antlers are not the anti-Christ. Evil is best defined by intent and action not depiction.

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There are not many depictions of Cernunnos and he is only referred to once by name  (on the Pillar of the Boatmen above). The top engraving is from the Gundestrop Cauldron. Unlike Pan and Faunus, which are horned, Cernunnos is an antlered deity. Without much to go by, I sketched this first image:

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Which gave me a rough guide to start working on my mask.

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Which, after some refinements and detailing……

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And some kiln time, produced the final product which you’ll see below…

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My original intent was to leave Cernunnos unpainted so it could weather the elements and be displayed outdoors – in nature  – where Gods of Nature would most likely prefer to reside. I subsequently had an urge to paint this mask, which I did, but have not yet had a chance to take photos. This I will do upon my return to Mayne Island from Mexico sometime in March. Hasta Luego!

 

The Oppenheimer Mask

It’s mid April of 2014 and I am busy with my little studio café and the chores of spring in a rural environment. As the weather improves, so does attendance at the café and I am also finding myself increasingly outdoors to attend to my flower beds and vegetable gardens in anticipation of this year’s plantings. My studio has not yet evolved into a Gallery and the café offerings are still quite minimal – a decent selection of tea and a daily coffee. Cookies have not yet arrived but I am in the process of “testing the wares” of local foodie/baker Astrid to choose a small selection of goodies for locals to nibble on with their teas and coffees – ostensibly while I would be working on creative projects.

As I was discovering, the dream of running a little self-serve Café Gallery while I worked – undisturbed – on my art and writing projects was not reflected in reality. Even in the slower early days of this new project, my gregarious nature and the islanders willingness to sit and chat meant that much creative time was spent in conversation. Despite this, chores were still being done, projects were initiated and completed, and masks were being made, albeit on much more chill, “island time”.

The Oppenheimer Mask would be my first attempt at creating an image of a recognizable historical figure. Because of this, it makes the explanation of “Why Oppenheimer?” a little more complex. Robert Oppenheimer was considered – by some – to be the father of the atomic bomb for his role in the Manhattan Project , the WW2 undertaking to develop the first nuclear weapons used in the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Despite the singular significance of his contribution to the origins and development of Weapons of Mass Destruction, Oppenheimer was ultimately conflicted about proliferation, the advent of more powerful weapons and their politicization. He has also been seen as “symbolizing the dilemmas involving the moral responsibility of the scientist in the nuclear world.” When I first saw Oppenheimer in the attached grainy black and white TV interview, I was struck by the obvious struggle taking place within him as he brushes away tears and quotes from the Bhagavad Gita…”Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds”…it is 1965, a full 20 years after the explosion of the first nuclear weapon at Alamogordo New Mexico where Oppenheimer worked.

The world is – at this time – immersed in the Cold War and a nuclear arms race whose gift to us is of Mutually Assured Destruction. Oppenheimer’s pain is palpable as he reveals his emotional state to us in this interview. The burden of realization…of a deep glimpse into uncertain futures, and his contribution to this morass is etched in his face.

From a purely artistic point of view – I also found his face interesting and wanted to tackle it’s creation as my next project. As is usually the case, this starts with a sketch:

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It is April 25, 2014 – I cleared a space in my studio, assembled my clay and utensils and began to construct Mask # 6 – it is also my 2-year sobriety anniversary – so much has changed, for which I am so grateful.

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It normally takes me the better part of a weekend to create a mask. As Oppenheimer was more detailed and complex than some of my previous images this extended to 3 or 4 days. This does not include the week (or so) of drying/curing, the subsequent firing, and eventual glazing or painting.

This would be the first time that I would use Fallow Deer antlers on a mask. Mayne Island has a bothersome surplus of Fallow Deer. They are an invasive species which are damaging the local ecosystem (and, of course, gorging on islanders petunias) – and are consequently fair game for local hunters. The Fallow Rack is a more dramatic antler display than the indigenous Black-Tail Deer and resembles Reindeer antlers – which are also related to Elk. Here is the finished mask:

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Postscript: The story, dear reader, does not end there. I am happy to tell you that I was the proud recipient of a Blue Ribbon award at the 2014 Mayne Island Fall Fair – a not-to-be-missed event if you ever happen to be on Mayne Island in the Middle of August 🙂

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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

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*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