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!