Spirit Masks by Diana J. Smith
One of a Kind
I have always been a primitive, preferring the romance of cultures past. My masks conjure up images of primitive people performing ceremonial rites to ensure a bountiful crop, successful hunt, or to honor their gods. The masks draw from animal forms in the same way primitive art does throughout North America, Oceania and Africa. The construction begins with the face. I make some of leather, while others I hand build of stoneware, then Raku fire. The amazing beauty of the colors, shapes and textures of the materials are integral in creating the work. The spirit of the mask evolves with my choices in the same way Native Americans used a type of feather which was significant to its purpose. The components are similar to what you would find in an ancient sacred fetish bundle. All are natural – feathers, raw wool, shells antler, sinew, semiprecious stones, turquoise, quartz, carved fetishes, snake-skin, pelts of all kinds (many from recycled vintage clothing), as well as Anasazi pottery shards and trade beads. The beads are antique African trade beads, used between the 16th and 20th century as a currency to exchange for goods, services and slaves in Africa. They were also used by Europeans to trade with the Native Americans. My masks emerge as a new species themselves. Just as fetishes are believed to contain the spirits of the animals they represent, these masks contain their own spirits. In today’s world, they may not be used in primitive rites, but instead may inspire searching for answers to one’s destiny, and in healing, not the body, but the spirit. Each spirit mask is a one-of-a-kind original, a tribute to our ancient colorful past. They may be hung on the wall or displayed on their custom stands.
The materials in my masks are similar to what you would find in an ancient sacred fetish bundle. I use quartz and agate, shells, dried herbs (represented by pods and sticks), antler, broken pottery (antique Anasazi shards), porcupine quills, pelts, skins, natural turquoise, amber, bone, hair pipe, shells, sea urchin spines and beads.
Some of the beads are antique African trade beads (all are authentic, not new reproductions) including:
Black and Red Antique Venetian Skunk Beads, Fancy Antique Venetian Millefiori Beads, Antique Watermelon Beads, Antique Venetian ‘Tic Tac Toe’ Beads, Antique Red Padre Beads/White Hearts, Batik Pipe Bone Beads, from Ghana
Native American Indians used feathers for a variety of important purposes including ornamentation and artwork as well as ceremonial and religious uses. The type of feather used was at times significant to its purpose. Each time the chief, warrior, or other important tribe member committed a brave act, a feather was added to their headdress.
The feathers I incorporate:
Pheasant, Red and badger strung hackles, Strung bronze cocktails, Strung rusty chinchilla saddles, Strung furnace saddles, Guinea feathers, Macaw feathers (naturally shed)
I use carved stone fetishes which are animal sculptures believed to contain the spirit of the animal it represents. They are used to protect people going on a long journey, help people find the correct herbs for healing ailments, insure successful crops, help when searching for game, and in healing.
Pelts and skins include:
Rabbit, Springbok, Shearling, Cow Hide, Rawhide, Pig Skin, Snake skins (Whip, Rattlesnake and Python), Lizard, Ostrich, Squirrel tails, Mink, Beaver and Fox (from vintage recycled clothing)
Raw Wool (Llama roving), Pieces of old Navajo rugs, Buffalo head nickels, Antlers, Sinew, Hemp, White Bark Birch sticks
The faces are either leather or Raku fired stoneware.
Each mask lists its materials on its inside signature tag.