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I arrived early to night school class, there at the front of the room stood a tall man with blood running down his arm, his bloody knife on the table. He said.The teacher, Mark George entered and laughed. “If you cut yourself put pressure on the cut, and hold it above your heart. We will help you. If you need to go to emergency, we will take you. Don’t be like those women in my last class. One said 'OOH', and ran out, dripping blood. Her friend grabbed up all their stuff and ran after her. They never came back. That was the longest bit of instruction Mark gave us. He had some books and some yellow cedar and he told us to pick a design and get started. I had one small curved chip knife and one medium gouge. I decided on a flat mask and a classmate, Thomas, cut out an oval for me. While I watched him using the power saw, I imagined what that saw could do to my fingers.
I drew a simple face on the wood and tried to carve. The cedar chips smelled wonderful but carving wasn’t so easy. I didn't understand about wood grain and didn't know how to sharpen my tools. However as I continued to work on this first mask, the expression emerged from the wood. At first I was so focused on trying to hold the wood and tools properly, so as to not cut myself, that I didn’t notice the eyes of the mask were watching me. Then I saw those sad eyes in a thoughtful, androgynous face, looking directly out at me. I was amazed to suddenly see so much feeling emerging from the face in the wood. Thomas had been helping me learn to hold the gouges and knives. He said “look at that expression. You must be a natural carver.” I felt totally happy. I almost believed him. I carved a little frog on the forehead.
Then I painted the features leaving lots of the wood unpainted and natural to show the curving grain. I painted the eye pupils black, the eye sockets blue, the nostrils red. The face looked back at me thoughtfully. Then I painted the frog on the forehead green. He could be the prince of the frogs from the Haida legend. I finished the wood with natural shoe polish. Our instructor, Mark George, broke up my love affair with my first mask. Mark told me West Coast First Nations people believe that a beginning carvers must always give away their first mask. I was so shocked. How could I do that? It would be like giving away a child. I reluctantly gave it to my partner Laura. That way it would still be in our house and I could look at it. When Laura left me a few years later, she took the frog prince mask with her. So that was the last of my first mask.
While I was obsessed with carving that first mask I bored most of my friends, with my carving talk. Then I found a large yellow cedar log on the beach. 0 of 8192 characters usedPost CommentNo HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites. Great article. I started making power objects and hope to learn from a master carver but think it might be wise - since I never did any woodworking in school to try to find some basics in wood working first. Trying to find something in the lower mainland over the summer seems impossible! But I won't give up. Maybe there is a high school equivalency class in wood shop! I bought the book! Ralph Lauren is my favorite brand ,would you like to have a try? Many thanks Speedbird.I see you are from Nairobi Kenya.