The call of natural materials

Three of my earlier masks on display at
the 2005 Bonnie Kahn Gallery
group mask show, Portland, OR
Some years before Wildland Roots came about, I ran a successful mask-making business. I exhibited in art galleries, shipped masks to customers around the world, and even had a few creations featured in film and television.

But over the years, as I sat crafting my masks from synthetic materials in my basement studio, I found myself day-dreaming of wildlands: mossy old growth forests, rocky high deserts and windy beaches. And thus an idea began to form...

What if I could escape my subterranean confinement, and actually go to some of these wild places and make my art there?

So as I sat at my desk, hands endlessly shaping and painting plastic and neoprene, my mind filled with intriguing visions: camping simply, listening to birdsong as I sculpted and painted, watching sun, moon and stars move across the sky. But abruptly, these images were interrupted by a disturbing thought.

Because my masks were so reliant on unnatural materials, I could not craft them outside of an isolated studio without contamination to my immediate environment. Even my paints generated gallons of tainted brush water that would need to be carefully transported home for disposal. And I did not want to take my creativity to wild places if it meant polluting them.

Local earth pigments collected to
make natural paint
So then I started thinking... What if I could make my art from the materials that those lands offered me?  What if the creative process could become an act of collaboration with nature herself? What if the masks I made could offer a face--a voice even--to woods and river, soils and rock? But then it dawned on me; over three decades of art-making, I had never been given the material knowledge or tools to make such a thing happen.

But here is what I did know: I no longer wished to run a business that polluted the land. And so I closed my studio and spent the next several years learning and eventually teaching ancestral and outdoor living skills.

Being a nature educator was an amazing experience, and for awhile, my life as a mask-maker felt like a distant memory. But little did I know that the masks were simply biding their time, waiting until I had the skills to finally return to them.

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