Saved by da mizzles

It was late summer, 1973, and I was a long-haired 18 year old kid about to embark on my post high school round-the-world odyssey of personal discovery…and fun. In preparation for the cross-Canada train trip to Montreal – where my best pal Keith and I would catch our flight to Amsterdam – I decided to leave my parents home in Victoria and stay in Vancouver for a few weeks, where my brother-in-law had arranged shared accommodation for me at his secretary’s apartment.

Barb was a much older – she was 23 – single mother of one, and carries the distinction as being the woman to whom I lost my virginity in the days and weeks prior to my departure for distant lands. “Wow, this is great!”, I thought, “exotic travel and sex…I should’ve left Mom and Dad’s place years ago” …what the parental home may lack in terms of exotic and erotic freedom is oftentimes compensated for by its protective cocoon – my first sexual encounter would also be my first (but sadly not my last) encounter with venereal disease – young Georgie had “the clap”.

Aah, but I was not bitter or angry (after all, I’d finally had sex :), and the clinic loaded me up with enough pharmaceuticals to kill a horse and also ensure that I could catch my train on time. Thank God for antibiotics…and sex!

If you’ve ever caught the train across Canada you’ll know, but it bears repeating, it’s an absolutely gorgeous journey and a very leisurely and civilized way to travel. Grand Canadian vistas viewed from spacious seating areas through large picture windows. Because Keith and I were budget travelers we did not rent a stateroom choosing instead to spend the 4-day trip either wandering to the dining car or residing in our ample seats…this, of course, left us exposed to interactions with the other passengers. Late one evening, before we pulled into Montreal, a fellow, whom we’d never seen before,  approached us with an offer of free drugs – MDA I seem to recall – in powdered format. We ingested as much as his largesse would allow, after which time he promptly left, never to be seen again….We waited….Patiently. After a time, I said “I’m not feeling anything…you?”, “No” replied Keith, “I wonder what that shit was?” We remained in our seats with our advancing disappointment, and mild apprehension. “Maybe it was baking soda”, said Keith, “Or poison…rat poison” I countered. Either way, apprehension is not an ideal state from which to enjoy a good nights sleep. We arrived in Montreal feeling a little burnt out but eager to embark on the next stage of our journey – transatlantic flight! Europe! Yay!

By the time we were in the air, I started to notice that I wasn’t feeling so great. I had a mild headache, felt slightly feverish and had increasing difficulty swallowing. My throat felt constricted and scratchy…”I might be coming down with a cold”, I told my buddy, “That’s a drag man, why don’t you ask the stewardess if they have any pills for that?” Great idea. The ever obliging and helpful stewardess (in the days before flight attendants) hauled out her bag of pharmaceuticals and gave me two of something to ease my plight. Painstakingly I swallowed them, not thinking for a moment that perhaps, just perhaps, adding more chemicals into my system on top of the recent antibiotics and “mystery drug” might be unwise. I thanked her and smiled flirtatiously in my new role as a non-virgin.

Not surprisingly, the pills didn’t work and, by the time we landed in Amsterdam, on a Sunday,  I was feeling considerably worse and now had a noticeable rash on my torso comprising of small raised red spots. “Hey man, I don’t know what I’ve got, but I feel like shit and think I need to have this looked at…let’s ditch our backpacks at the Hostel and go find a doctor “, I said, “Where are we going to find a doctor on a Sunday…in a foreign country?”, replied Keith. Remember, it’s 1973…no internet…no smartphones or handy apps…we didn’t even have credit cards – Americans Express cheques, a copy of the Lonely Planet Guide and the optimism of youth were the tools with which all obstacles would be overcome. “We’ll ask the guy at the Hostel, c’mon”

”Red Light District”…”You can find anything you want in the Red Light District”, said the Hostel Guy, “Here” …he slid a piece of paper across the reception desk, with an address on it, making sure not to touch my hand for fear of infection.

God bless the Dutch…and their quintilingualism (Hostel Guy spoke impeccable English), and their progressive ways! “Anything we want”…on a Sunday no less, how civilized. We made our way into Amsterdam’s world-famous “Rosse Burt” seeking medical salvation.

The unabashed display of prostitution and open accessibility of soft drugs made me forget – momentarily – that I was dying of an unnamed illness. For two parochial lads from the repressive Social Credit province of British Columbia, seeing bars open – and serving alcohol – on a Sunday was perhaps even more of a revelation to the permissive wonderland of vice that the Dutch had created. I knew I was going to like it here – if I survived my plague.

The bar looked seedy and non-descript. An open doorway into darkness with early 70’s era rock pounding from within. As we attempted to pass, a half dozen smallish, brown-skinned young Moluccan* males – some with knives hanging from their belts – exited the bar and surrounded us in a circle. “‘Ey man, where you boys be goin?”, “You got no need to be runnin’ off…why don’ choo c’mon into da bar an buy us a drink man”

Parochial or otherwise, Keith and I both knew what it meant to be surrounded by a slightly intimidating pack of males. This kind of threat plays out in schoolyards around the world and is not an uncommon experience of young males everywhere – the knives were an unfamiliar twist. “My friend is sick and needs to see a doctor” said Keith – going for the sympathy play. Unconvinced, our “new best drinking buddies” shuffled a bit and looked slyly at each other, without any sign of backing down. Realizing that they needed further convincing, and in one momentarily clever strategic move, I lifted my t-shirt up to my chest to expose my torso covered in bright red spots.

“Whoa man, you gots da mizzles” said the ringleader, now with a tone of fear and dread. He and his cronies had all immediately taken about 5 steps backwards when they saw me covered with an apparent communicable illness. “You gonna need a doctor…go dat way” he pointed further down the street, as he and his mates slunk back into the bar – defeated by mizzles.

Feeling relieved by this narrow escape, we carried on with our medical mission of mercy. “How’re you feeling man?”, asked Keith, “Shitty”, I replied, “I think we’ve strayed from the recommended sites of the Official Tourist Guide…are we almost there?”, “I think so, according to Hostel Guys instructions it’s just a bit further up Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal …c’mon”

The doctor’s office was on the second floor of a 3 storey brick and stone walk up. Down a poorly lit hallway, the wooden door with the frosted pane read: Dr.Willem de Ridder Room 216. I knocked. A gravely male voice said, “Kom Binnen”. Inside the room, sitting behind a wooden office desk with a cigarette in his mouth, sat the Doctor, languidly petting the head of a Red Setter. The room was stale with cigarette smoke and on the desk sat an ashtray full of cigarette butts. Between cigarettes and strokes of his faithful pets head, the doctor explored my throat and infected torso with his nicotine stained fingers. “ I sink you haff an infection”, he said, “I vill give you some pills – antibiotica – which vill clear up your problem in a few days”. Being the trusting sort: of older, more experienced women; of strangers on a train; of the medical acumen of stewardesses; and of Doctors in Red Light Districts…on a Sunday – I took the pills.

Later that night, back at the Youth Hostel, I lay in my bunk, wrapped in my sleeping bag, shivering, shaking, and bathed in sweat from fever and mild delirium. The red spots had now spread to my groin, upper arms and back. The first day of my overseas adventure had taken some unexpected twists.

It would be a few years before I made the connection between my pharmaceutical overdose – too many drugs in too short a time –  and my “mystery illness”, longer still before I understood the political plight of young Moluccan* men in the Netherlands. Despite my near-death pharmaceutical misadventure, we got lucky on this day and  may have accidentally been saved by ‘da mizzles’…more reliable street smarts would definitely be required to get us safely through the rest of this trip.

*(The Moluccans are a people from the Maluku Islands, an archipelago in Eastern Indonesia. When Indonesia gained independence from the Dutch in 1950, The Republic of Maluku tried to secede, supported by the Netherlands. When the movement was defeated, 12,000 Moluccans were transported to Holland where “They were then discharged on arrival, not allowed to work, given pocket money and ‘temporarily’ housed in camps.”. Because “the Dutch government, never made any effort to help the Moluccans establish their Republik”, this marginalization “radicalised young Moluccans during the ’70s in the Netherlands, including a train hijacking in 1975, taking hostages at De Punt in Groningen and at a school in Bovensmilde.“


Sudden Blue Sky – Hornby Island

I’ve been meaning to write a story about our trip to Hornby Island in June of this year to celebrate the life of our friend Ben Banky who died tragically in 2008, but the summer turned out to be exceedingly busy at my Gallery on Mayne so I’ve not had the chance. Now, we are just a week away from a second event to honour the 10 year anniversary of his passing on December the 12th (at the Anza Club with Big Head Project & Snass) so I’m buckling down to capture memories of summer before they fade.

When we received word that a weekend celebration was being planned in June on Hornby Island to honour – what would have been – the 50th birthday of our dearly departed friend – Ben Banky – we embraced the thought wholeheartedly. An opportunity to honour our dear friend Ben, and pay a long overdue visit to his parents, extended family and friends seemed like such a fabulous idea that we accepted the invitation without delay. I was grateful to Ben’s widow Linda, and his parents Jake and Kathy for spearheading the idea – grateful too that a trip to one of my favourite Gulf Islands – Hornby, in late Spring – was now in the cards. It would be sublime.

A subsequent email from Jake in early April – via Linda – almost unbelievable in it’s tragic content, cast immediate uncertainty upon all of our community’s celebratory plans for Ben. His brother John was missing and presumed dead – the result of foul play in Northern B.C. Fairness, evidently, is just a concept – lightning can, and has tragically, struck twice.

The desire for all of us  – friends and family of the Banky’s – to assemble on Hornby Island was made more acute by John’s passing. Now we would come to honour the lives of both of their sons. We would bring our support and love and hugs, and would receive the same in return.  We would bring food and drink and music and bonhomie – the key ingredients of any good gathering which are always so plentiful at Banky events.

Driving up the inner coast of Vancouver Island on the slower oceanside routes under full sun and warmth in mid-June before tourist season, is blissful. Many of us were making the trek to Hornby on the Friday night to settle in before Ben’s 50th Birthday Bash on Saturday. Cathy and I shared a cottage with our good friend Craig on Anderson Drive  – just a short walk from the Banky’s home on Oyster Place, and Ben’s business partner Matt, and his wife Shino & daughter Emma rented a waterfront house – also on Oyster – which created a private enclave where the events of the weekend would unfold.

Friday night was BBQ and potluck at the Breech’s, and was reserved primarily for off-island friends and family who’d travelled great distances – some coming in from as far away as Toronto and Boston – to be there. The above picture was taken from their deck looking east towards Texada Island and the Coastal mountains of the Mainland, and, luckily for all attending, the blue skies and warm weather stayed with us all weekend.

Hornby Island is – without a doubt – one of the loveliest of all of the Gulf Islands, and might arguably be the most beautiful spot in BC. I fell in love with this place when I first hitchhiked here at the age of 14 with two highschool chums, and have been coming back as often as I could ever since. It was here that I met Ben at the first annual Hornby Island Blues workshop in 2000, and here that I would stand as his Best Man and MC at his wedding, and here where we would lay his ashes to rest at the “Ben-der” in 2010.

We awoke on June 16 – the day of Ben’s celebration – with a mind to explore some of the cherished places that Hornby has to offer. For me, any trip to Hornby must include a walk on Tribune Bay, a hike at Helliwell Park, a visit to the Ringside market & Farmer’s Market, and a trip to Ford’s Cove. Luckily we were able to do all of these things – here’s a picture of Cathy & I at Tribune Bay.



Saturday’s celebration of life – of Ben’s 50th Birthday – was being held at the Banky’s home, commencing in the early evening with a sizeable crowd expected to turnout. Jake & Kathy are long-term and well-loved stalwarts of Hornby’s community. Their active involvement in island culture, Jake’s legendary Apple Snake hooch and Kathy’s renowned cooking have earned them well-deserved reputations as warm and inviting hosts. Off islanders have gathered and locals will arrive to contribute food, drink and camaraderie to the festivities. Old friends were reunited, tables creaked under the weight of food, the outdoor bar was well-stocked (until it wasn’t), instruments appeared, singing followed, and maybe, in the midst of the gaiety, tears were shed…how could it be otherwise?


Craig with Ron & Karen Doucette against the backdrop of Texada and the Coast Mountains

If Ben were still with us and if I were still drinking the party would have been noisier and gone later, and maybe some form of mischief might have ensued. Despite this, the rest of the celebrants did an admirable job 🙂 It was a bittersweet and magnificent event.

Sunday morning, early,  after a party at the Banky’s – one of those moments where 6 years of sobriety pays off :). Our day would unfold very much like Saturday…breakfast at the Ringside Market, exploring, enjoying and absorbing the natural beauty of this place – and we found time for an additional trip to Whaling Station Bay and a little spelunking of tidal pools and driftwood. Tonight’s wrap up to this glorious weekend would be hanging out on the Breech’s deck for leftovers and BBQ, while the Banky’s gathered their clan next door for a more intimate – and sedate – family get-together.


Our Sunday night gathering at Matt & Shino’s was a much smaller group, as many friends and family had to return to their Monday morning off-island lives…mellow and conversational…a sweet meditation on a busy emotionally conflicting weekend. Here’s a little video of our amphitheatre of bliss with Cathy, Shino, Nick, Craig, Matt, Emma & Cam present.

Up to this point in the weekend, I can’t say that there was anything noticeable missing from an otherwise perfect celebration of Ben’s – and his brother John’s – lives. At least not until the sound of Ben’s deep baritone came to us via Matt’s sound system – it was Ben, singing our dear friend Lolly’s song “Shana Na” backed up by Big Head Project. This song was recorded on a CD called “Great Stuff”…a collection of tunes written by Lolly and recorded by his friends after his untimely demise in 2005. We all paused to soak in the moment…the warm embrace of Ben’s voice like an audible hug.  Here’s the tune – have a listen:

As the song was ending, and we were all sitting in quiet contemplation or murmuring appreciatively, I remembered that I had Doug Mollenhauer’s song “Sudden Blue Sky” on my iPhone – a song Doug wrote in honour of Ben after Ben’s passing. It’s a beautiful and powerful song – haunting and poignant – and seemed absolutely fitting for the moment that we were in. As some present had not heard it before I suggested that we play it and everyone heartily agreed…here it is:

With the setting of the evening sun on the shores of the Salish Sea, with full bellies, surrounded by good friends and partners, and feeling connected to Ben through song, we were in a very mellow blissful state – it was quite grand. Then Matt remembered that he had brought a video – the video – of Ben & Lolly playing bongos & guitar on Doug Mollenhauer’s recording of “50 Something Blues”, a song which Doug had written for his brother John’s 50th…videotaped by Linda in my bedroom circa 2002-03. We all convened around the flatscreen for a viewing:

The beauty and serendipity of this moment was not lost on anyone present. The unexpected arrival of Ben – through music – was sweet synchronicity. Watching Ben, Lolly and Doug toast Doug’s brother John at the end of the video – the same name as Ben’s brother who had also recently passed, was one of those Jungian “meaningful coincidences” that cross our paths.  I am always grateful when such moments appear, for they are rare  – it was a perfect denouement for our weekend of remembrance – it was sublime…


The Mixed Blessing of Selling your own Artwork

I wear several hats currently. I am a Curator at Shavasana Gallery & Café                             ( ) where I curate the artwork of other artists who have chosen to exhibit here; I double as the proprietor/barista guy at the very same Café…selling a few cookies and squares, making a mean cup of daily Saltspring Dark & well-received espresso drinks; and, when time permits, I wear a three-pointed creative hat, or Tricorne, which comprises my efforts as a writer, musician and artist.

I’ve always had some trepidation giving myself any one of these three creative titles, and am not completely clear what it takes to make it so – public appreciation? having income from one’s efforts? If so, I guess I can now make a legitimate claim – I’ve made a few sales of my own artwork lately which – as I have discovered – can be a mixed blessing.


(Cernunnos  – made his way to an appreciative home this past summer)

When one writes or makes music, it is usually a product for mass consumption. You don’t write a book or create a song for one person (hopefully) and it is, therefore, not quite as personal as when you sell a piece of your own art. Art is truly unique in nature and is almost always one-of-a-kind – when it leaves your studio, home or personal collection it is truly gone. That piece of you, that thing which you have attempted to express…is gone, and it can be truly bittersweet.

This is one reason why establishing a fair price for a piece of art can be so difficult – the selling price should compensate for the loss the artist feels and should not be sold for less. fullsizeoutput_1154

(Although I have not included my line of necklaces on the Clay and Bone website, I have a series of them which I hope to make room for soon – this piece, which was made from beads used by “Bear” – a pipe-carrier following the shamanic path. It was my personal favourite and it too departed this summer)

The third piece which sold this summer – to a dear friend visiting from the Gatineau – was a departure from my usual mask & necklace making activities. The local Mayne Island Arts Council came up with a concept for a community Art Show – titled “Art in a Book” (or some such thing) which involved either making an art booklet, or, in my case, making art inside a hollowed out book which I had in my possession. Check it out:

( All Roads At Any Time, art in a book… All Roads at any Time

This particular piece has significance for me as I have an intention to work further with the message: “All Roads at Any Time” which I find -from personal experience – to be an apt metaphor for life…

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


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:


Until I felt pleased with the final outcome.


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:


Mujica – Latin American Mandela

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: .

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)


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 : ) 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.


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.


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


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.


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




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.


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


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…

8AC1B51A-D04A-43FD-9E54-D68755A3965C(Photo under construction)

…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…       🙂


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.


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


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


A little clay work…


After firing and attaching the antlers…


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


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.


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:


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


Which, after some refinements and detailing……


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


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:


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.



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:


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 🙂


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