Monday, March 27, 2006

The First Five

This is "Toothy Bird" - she's my favorite so far. I had a dream about her the night after I completed her. In my dream, she was talking to me, and told me to make a life-sized loon mask, whose beak could open and close, and reveal its yua, or human being (spirit) inside its mouth. The loon was a powerful figure in Yupik masks - due to its ability to travel through all three spirit worlds: water, air and land. The teeth in her wings and the human face on her back show the viewers that the bird is a powerful shaman, travelling between spirit worlds. Height: about 11 inches, width: 15 in. Cottonwood bark, glass beads, alder roots, duck feathers,copper wire, oil stain.

Seal Mask. This is paired with the mask below. Seals and other sea mammals were thought to have female spirits. The frowning stylized seal face inside the mask is feminine, as it is frowning. Female spirits and women were always portrayed frowning, and males smiling. Cottonwood bark, alder roots, duck feathers, glass beads, copper wire. Height: 9 inches, width 6 ins.

Seal Muzzle Mask. This is the mate to the seal above. She still needs a small kayak with hunter, that will be on the top center of the mask. The first kayak I carved broke. This mask is just a close-up of a seal's snout and open mouth, which reveals a stylized seal face inside. Of course the fish represent the seal's favorite food! Cottonwood bark, alder and unknown root, glass beads, copper wire, duck feathers. Height: 7 inches, width: 5 inches.

"Chalarok" or East Wind mask. He is paired with the mask below. There are a number of masks which represent the winds. Little information was gathered about the mask's meaning by the collector of the original. He is shown with a man - possibly representing a shaman riding on him. The hoops in the masks represent the universe. White feathers represent stars. White dots may represent stars, snow, or spirit eyes. The pierced hands with cut off thumbs represent the tuunraaq, who were helper spirits called upon by the shaman. Tuunraaq dwelled on the moon, and controlled game, birds and fish. It was believed the hole in the palm allowed enough animals and fish to go down to earth so man would not go hungry, but not too many animals so they would all be killed. Cottonwood bark, alder roots, glass beads, copper wire, ptarmigan feathers. Height: 9 inches, width: 5 inches.

"Negakfok" or "North Wind" mask. The tube allows the wind to blow. The dangling objects on his forehead tinkle like a wind-chime. Cottonwood bark, spruce root, alder root, glass beads, copper wire, ptarmigan feathers. Height: 8 inches, width: 4 inches.

The originals, after which these masks were modelled, were all collected in the late 1800's by American and European collectors, most of whom were missionaries. These masks all came from villages in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. The originals were all large full-face masks, which were carved for specific festivals or other ritual performances. Had the collectors not bartered for the masks, they would have been destroyed - chopped up and used as firewood, or set out on the tundra to weather away. Some masks were buried with powerful shamans who created or visualized them.

Friday, March 17, 2006

More Progress and History Behind the Masks

After my post last night, I kept getting error messages. My partner came home, and wanted to go out and get some dinner, so I had to dash out, thinking my post hadn't 'taken'. I was pleasantly surprised this morning, when I found the comment from Howard in my e-mail!

Actually, I never got to the subject of last night's post - callouses and turpenoid. When I first was invited to do this show last month, I started working on some pieces right away. The gallery wanted 25 masks originally, and I had talked her down to 15 (or more, if possible). I haven't spent alot of time carving lately, and I started getting blisters in my hands from the knives. Of course, I also got a few shallow cuts initially, my hands feeling clumsy. The callouses also help protect my fingers from cuts, since I use my thumb and edges of my index fingers as 'stops' for the blades sometimes, doing the fine detail carving. Despite have my nose full of sawdust, sneezing all the time. wearing band-aids, and having sore hands, I'm loving it!

Because I used oil-based stain for the masks, and was almost out of turpentine, I decided to try the turpenoid alternative. It still smells, but not a s strongly. I find that I'm like Elise, and probably most other oil painters - I love the smell of turpentine! I know it's not good to breathe, but our garage is airy. When the weather is warmer, I open the garage door to let the fumes out. I have tried water-based stains, but they just don't have the richness of color, or bring out the grain like oils do. I just mix oil paint with tung oil and turpentine, and get a stain that hardens and protects the wood, as well as brings the grain to life.

Below are the pair of Seal masks, ready to be assembled. Both will have hoops added, and some details added with paint later. The one on the left is also missing the kayak with it's hunter, which I have to re-do. (that's his little paddle to the lower right of the white mask). The mask on the right is just the seal's snout, with open mouth, revealing the seal's yua or human-being (spirit). All animals, fish, birds, and elements of nature had dual spirits - animal and human. Marine mammals have female spirits, and are depicting frowning, as are women in Yupik art.

These are the ready-to-assemble Negakfok or North Wind, and the Toothy Bird masks. They will also have hoops attached, that encircle the body of the mask, and some details added with paint.

These masks, as well as the three new ones I'm just starting, are all traditional Yupik masks. They are replicas in miniature of masks that were made in the late 1800's and early 1900's, before mask-making and traditional dances and ceremonies were banned by the Christian missionaries. The Catholics, Mennonites, and Baptists, as well as others, all had substantial missionary efforts in Alaska, which strongly affected the Yupik traditions, virtually wiping out their mask-making art. The art forms continued, but a watered-down version for the tourist trade. Fortunately, quite a few collectors realized the value of the masks, and saved them from being destroyed - which the Yupik ususally carried out as part of the ceremony. Masks were either chopped up and burned for firewood, or laid out on the tundra to erode. Shamans were often buried with masks and other ritual objects of their trade. We do owe these early collectors for the several hundred Yupik masks that reside in museums and private collections all over the world today. In the 1980's, mask-making has re-emerged as part of the Alaska Native cultural renaissance that has been going on state-wide.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Calluses and the Smell of Turpenoid

At last - we found the problem that was making our 'puter so slow! It was the modem (we have cable broadband). This is the second modem (from Comcast) that crapped out on us. So my partner bought a new one, and now we're up and running.

These are boxes of my raw material: cottonwood bark:

Here's a Seal Mask that has been roughed out:

These are Negakfok, the North Wind (top) and Tomanik, the Windmaker (lower left), sanded and ready to stain:

Here is part of the first 5 masks, and their appendages, after the first coat of stain; l-r are Tomanik, one of a pair of Seals, and Toothy Bird:

Busy Busy

So I've been trying to post from home - but something has got our computer all bogged down. I have some pics of my works in progress to post - hope it will work this weekend! I have been busy working on pieces for my big art show in Montana in June. I have five pieces that are stained, and ready to assemble. Thank goodness tomorrow is my flex day off from work, and I will be able to devote serious time to the masks. I then need to take some photos - my first images are due at the Gallery by April 1 so they can have something for the postcards and ads. Then all my completed pieces are due (which I will have to pack and mail) to the gallery by June 1. Whew! But I'm having a blast! It's so exciting to have a goal to work toward!

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