Who are those Masked Men?

Yesterday, I held a Mask Making workshop for four lovely men.  There were two visual artists, one writer and one psychologist.   They are all interested in new experiences and inner exploration.

I plan my workshops within a framework which gives the day structure, but remains fluid in response to each unique group of people.   I’m lucky enough to live in a large enough and flexible space that I can hold these in my home.  I begin by welcoming participants with a hot drink and giving people time to arrive and meet everyone.   We gather to introduce ourselves and say a little, or a lot, about where we’ve come from and what we anticipate from the day.  Next we watch a DVD I’ve put together of masks in their six primary functions – protection, performance, disguise, ritual, entertainment and decoration.  I begin with this quote from Howard Gayton, co-founder of Ophaboom, an English physical theatre company:

“The act of stripping away, of diving into areas of being that are normally not accessed, is not only facilitated by the mask, but it is how the mask works. Masks demand of us honesty, a reaching into our depths. To understand masks we need to be able to hold paradox; how can something that covers, that hides, reveal so much? Masks have been used for millennia by traditional societies as shamanic tools, to aid individuals in reaching altered states of consciousness; in other words to travel into their own selves in order to bring back a boon to their society. In our case, this boon is wisdom. We open ourselves up, we struggle with our internal selves, and our aim is to bring back wisdom.”

Neolithic Stone Mask, 7,000 BCE

We have quite interesting discussions and observations about the interface quality of masks, eg, between the wearer and other people, between one’s inner and outer worlds.  Masks have an inherent ‘performance’ quality – the empty form of a mask, though sometimes powerful in its own right, calls for a wearer and an audience.

We begin the practical part of the day by  going ‘under the mask’.  I use ModRoc Plaster of Paris bandages, which take about 30 minutes to harden enough to remove.   I generally have a helper and we keep the room calm and quiet, making sure people are warm and comfortable.  Besides being very relaxing, people may take an inner journey, perhaps travelling to meet the Other behind their mask.  Even though this is a relatively ‘passive’ part of the experience, I have found (personally and through observation) that it is very valuable.  Some people share imagery of being in a tomb, of a death, perhaps some sadness; it is quite a profound experience to have one’s features erased, if only for a short while.

Under the Mask

I give people the option, where time permits, of applying the mask.

Once the masks have come off, they go into a low oven to dry while we have some lunch.   After about 90 mimutes, the masks are decorated.

Blank palettes

Being two-sided, some masks held hidden mystery.

Inner Gold

Contemplating the Inner Universe

It’s always great at the end of the day to see people donning and posing with their masks.

I am constantly amazed by the diversity and individuality of people’s creativity.

The Masked Men

Nellie’s Nine Patch

January 20th was the 30th anniversary of my mother’s death from breast cancer.  I got up before dawn and lit a candle in front of her picture.

Nell Rose Schwakhofer nee Martin, c. 1950

I have a quilt on our bed that I made during my move to the UK 11 years ago.  I started it in California and finished it in Scotland, after I moved.  My mother Nell was called Nellie when she was a little girl.  The pattern was popular in the 1930’s.  I used reproduction 30’s fabric and figured out how to make a prairie point border!

Nellie’s Nine Patch

Back of the quilt

I printed onto fabric my mom’s school picture and one of her favourite quotes that we found on a sundial in 1976 on our trip back East.

“Time flies, suns rise
Flowers bloom and die.
Let time go by and shadows fall,
Love is forever, over all.”

Nellie, 1934, age 10

Steve and I had planned a feast for Saturday night.  We cooked Mexican food and 3 very dear friends joined us.  One of my cousins, Rebecca happened to be in London on business and she came out to stay and join our feast.  It was very special.  Rebecca remembers her Aunt Nell and we drank a toast to my mom and I put her photo in the living room during our meal.  On Sunday, we all went out to lunch at the pub.

Steve, me, Rebecca, Jayne and John

Technical Difficulties and Serendipity

I’m writing from my laptop, which I rarely use as it has Vista for it’s OS and I have been waiting to install Windows XP. I have Windows XP on my desktop pc and just find it a lot more user-friendly and also easier to install my printer drivers, camera software, copies of MS Office, Photoshop, etc. My friend Simon up in Scotland is going to give me some long distance help with this.

Yesterday, I switched on my desktop and it simply wouldn’t. I’ll try replacing the fuse on the plug tomorrow. In the meantime, all of my photos are stored on it, so I don’t have access to my archives. (I’m still waiting to replace my camera). Just as well I don’t have it yet, as I can’t publish photos of what I’m currently working on until after it has gone on show.

I’m finishing two quilts for the Festival of Quilts 2008 at the NEC in Birmingham this August. ‘Manhattan Angel’ is an homage to the photographer Lee Miller. I’m working on her dress and some Art Deco angel wings and just about to fuse all of it into place. Then I’ll sandwich the three layers and do the machine quilting.

‘Ivory Fish’ is a paper quilt made from monographs on cartridge paper. It tells the story about a fish I carved from a bar of soap when I was eight years old. I have glued the centre squares together and added a border. Just finishing up hand stitching the border to the centre, then I will ‘tie quilt’ a fabric back with a hanging sleeve and blanket stitch around the edges. Then, voila!

My low-tech difficulty is that I have lost the 2nd leather thimble I bought for the hand stitching. I’m sewing through 2 or 3 layers of cartridge paper and PVA, so can only work for about 30 minutes at a time until my finger gets too sore!

Yesterday, I went to the South West Quilters Summer Meeting in Okehampton. I got a lift from my friend Dorrie who was hosting one of the speakers, Edinburgh-based textile artist Pat Archibald. Her talk was ‘A Creative Journey to the Roof of Africa’ in which Pat told the story in words, slides and quilts of her inspirational climb to the top of Mount Kilamanjaro and the resulting award winning quilt ‘From Addis to Kili: From Dawn to Dusk’. Quite a journey and turning point.

Pat will have a booth at the Festival of Quilts 2008 where she will also be teaching, lecturing and doing demos. During this year’s Edinburgh Festival, Pat will be showing and selling her textile art at Venue 123. So if you are in Birmingham or Edinburgh this August, check her out.

During the journey Pat and I had a really nice blether about Edinburgh, creativity, fibre art, solo vs group art making and tattie scones. Besides the serendipity of meeting a new fibre art friend, I have been looking all over Exeter lately for foils. Pat had taught her workshop Travellers’ Tales Told in Little Landscapes yesterday and just happened to have packets of foil, special foil glue and glue crystals. So I bought everything I need and got expert advice to boot! I’m looking forward to playing with these in between all of my other projects!

Spring in my mailbox

Did someone say that spring had arrived in Devon? Oh, it was me . . . . a couple of weeks ago! We had frost every morning last week and chilly rain, rain, rain for the past two days. This afternoon we had to park on the other side of the river when we got home.

I checked the mail before I forded the stream and found that spring had arrived in the post. I received this juicy, vibrant ATC from Fannie Narte who is based in Texas.


I met Fannie recently in cyberspace when I googled Neocolor II and found my way to her blog Imagine, Create, Inspire. I emailed her my question about stabilizing Neocolor II on fabric and she got right back to me with some helpful advice. Fannie is an artist who enjoys exploring and shares her discoveries and techniques on her blog. I also really like the interesting questions she poses at the end of many of her posts. Oh! and she had a giveaway contest last weekend in which I won this beautiful ATC; actually we were all winners.

Fannie has another blog Artistic Expressions dedicated to her fabulous colored pencil and watercolor art. She is one of those talented and creative free spirits who carelessly says, ‘This is my first colored pencil piece’ and shows a perfectly executed work of art. Mahalo Fannie!!

Crossing the river

John O’Donohue

The writings of John O’Donohue, an Irish poet and philosopher, are one of my touchstones. John’s writing draws the reader into intimate conversation with neglected or unknown regions of the soul.

Language was his greatest gift — and his greatest blessing to others. His writing is grounded in human vulnerability and the desire, the longing, for a connection to the wonder of the divine in nature, and human life within it. He was one of those rare writers whose words help others make sense of the world, because he was held together, himself, by a sense that “there is an unseen life that dreams us; it knows our true direction and destiny. We can trust ourselves more than we realize, and we need have no fear of change.”

Lately, I have kept Eternal Echoes – Exploring Our Hunger to Belong close by. While reading it, I find myself frequently putting this book down to allow the words to travel through my interior layers and reach their intended destination: my soul.

I’ve quoted him a couple of times and have been planning to write a post about his writing and it’s influence on my spiritual journey sometime soon. I happened to have a free hour in a cafe in Exeter yesterday morning and it was with sadness that I read in the Guardian of his death in January of this year.

Here is a link to a memorial site which has some of John O’Donohue’s writing and a link to his last radio interview The Inner Landscape of Beauty.

Finally, here is a recording of John reading his poem Beannacht, or Blessing.


On the day
when the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble
May the clay dance
to balance you.

And when your eyes
freeze behind
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets into you

May a flock of colours
indigo, red, green
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
in the currach of thought
and a stain of ocean blackens
beneath you
May there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.

And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.

– John O’Donohue ( 1956-2008 )

The Beaded Frog

I paid a visit to my friend Heidi while I was in Greenville.  I met her in 2002 when I had just sold my first quilt to a couple in Davidson, NC.  I went to The Sewing Bird, a quilt shop in Charlotte to see if they had any silk velvet that I could use to wrap it in.  Heidi was into quilting at the time and we struck up a friendship that has continued long distance.  She took me on my very first visit to Mary Jo’s Cloth Store in Gastonia. 


Heidi now lives in Greenville and owns The Beaded Frog – a full service bead store in the downtown area.  Her shop offers classes, beads galore, custom design and repairs.  The shop has a very good vibe:  friendly and welcoming with lots of creativity going on.  As well as running a great shop Heidi is an art collector, promoter of emerging artists and a jewelry designer.  She is on a spiritual path which we spent a good deal of time talking about.  I think of Heidi as a breathtakingly level-headed angel.


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