Judith Z. Miller is Profiled on the Fractured Atlas Blog: http://www.fracturedatlas.org/site/blog/2009/10/16/featured-member-judith-z-miller/

Written September 15, 2009 – updated October 14, 2009
Sitka Alaska

A Moody Day in Sitka

A moody day in Stika © Judith Z. Miller, 2009

I’m back at the library in Sitka Alaska, on a gray, windy day. I gaze out through the huge picture window, looking over a gray choppy Sitka Sound, surrounded by gray and green tree-covered mountains. Who knew that there were so many shades of gray – and so many different ways the  mountains could appear in these varying shades of light? I watch in awe as the light changes, and as wind-surfers speed by, at what seems to be dangerously fast speeds.

I feel a great sense of accomplishment today, as I’ve FINALLY finished my HAND CARVED MASK – the reason for my voyage from BROOKLYN NEW YORK,  across the United States, and waaaay up NORTH to SITKA ALASKA, this beautiful little town of 8,600 people, nestled between the mountains. I’ve been studying in residency with prolific TLINGIT master woodcarver TOMMY JOSEPH at the Southeast Indian Cultural Center, housed inside the Sitka National Historical Park. I’ve been studying with Tommy with the help of a Development Grant from Fractured Atlas <http://www.FracturedAtlas.org>.

Master Tlingit Woodcarver Tommy Joseph, working on mouse helmit

Master Tlingit Woodcarver Tommy Joseph, working on mouse helmet, with another of his masks in the foreground

Tommy’s FORMLINE ART is astounding: beautiful, balanced, fierce – his masks, helmets and totems surround me in the studio and in the park – it’s inspiring (and daunting!).

Helmit - by Tlingit carver Tommy Joseph

Helmet - by Tlingit carver Tommy Joseph

If you’ve been following my blog, you may remember from the two previous posts that my vision for this HAND CARVED  MASK was inspired by a DREAM.

During my first day in the studio, Tommy asks me what I want to carve. My immediate response is to make a mask in honor of “ZULI,” my dearest animal companion, a Great Dane, who passed away 2 years ago in May, just a few days prior to her 12th birthday.

"Zuli" The Greatest Dane

"Zuli" The Greatest Dane

I miss Zuli every day, and want to keep her powerful, protective and loving energy near me – so I propose making her the subject for my project. Tommy says it’s a fine choice … But I’m not completely convinced it’s the right choice.



That night, wanting to devote my work to my deepest inspiration, I decided to let my dream consciousness help me decide what to carve.

I set an intention before I go to sleep: I WILL DREAM MY MASK.

I wake up in the middle of the dark Alaskan night from a intense dream:

A strong, handsome black man is standing outside of a building gazing up into a large picture window where two other BEAUTIFUL, NAKED, BLACK MEN ARE MAKING LOVE. He watches intently; HE LONGS TO BE WITH THEM – to express his love and attraction for other men – but he can’t allow himself. His desire is powerful, but he has internalized society’s judgments; he simply can’t allow himself to live out his desires.

In the dream, I walk inside a large auditorium, also in the same building, just below, perhaps, where the men are making love. I see, floating before me in the air, SHEETS OF MUSIC – beautiful hand-penned scores, balancing, floating in the air. I grasp one, and as I do, it BURSTS INTO SONG – I hear a soaring OPERATIC ARIA. I see other sheets of music around the auditorium, floating gracefully as if blown by a gentle wind, and each one is another beautiful song – an aria COMING TO LIFE from the written page. The entire auditorium is filled with magnificent WOMEN’S VOICES in operatic song emanating these pages.

I know this music is the UNEXPRESSED DESIRE of the man who could not allow himself to express his love physically – TRANSFORMED INTO ART.


I ponder to myself … I want to create a work of art that merges this mans’ struggle with my own – after all, THIS IS MY DREAM. I think about the artwork I’ve created in the past 10 years — my work to date has been focused on transforming my inner struggles and those that affect me from the outer world, carved into the TRUNKS AND ROOTS OF TREES to become what I call “SACRED STAFFS,” …

"AfterGlow" mosaic, crystals, paper © Judith Z. Miller 2009

"AfterGlow" tree trunk & roots, with mosaic tiles, crystals, garnets & paper © Judith Z. Miller 2009

… and drawn into “SPIRITUAL SELF PORTRAITS.”

4x4 inches_Golden Fingers 2

"Golden Fingers" © Judith Z. Miler, 2009

Since my youth, although identifying as female and lesbian, I’ve also experienced a strong sense of being psychically BI-GENDER as well. This is a long and complicated story that I won’t go into here and still don’t fully understand — and it’s something that I both struggle with and thoroughly enjoy. Also, especially with my recent self-portrait drawings, I’ve been exploring a sense that my spiritual body inhabits many cultures and histories unknown to my waking consciousness. I want to include all of these elements, through the images of the dream, in my mask.

As I sit in bed in THE DARKNESS OF NIGHT, I imagine a face, HALF WOMAN (myself) – AFRICAN AMERICAN MAN (the man in the dream). I see the center of the forehead, the “THIRD EYE” as a circle filled with a MUSICAL NOTE. The nose is CAUCASIAN/”Caucasoid on one side and AFRICAN/Negroid” on the other. The face smiles on one side, and contorts down and then up the other – pearly teeth glistening – and in the middle of that mouth, a PHALLUS protrudes. Below the mouth, a “goatee” in the shape the gay/holocaust upside down triangle – an image still powerful today of that extreme oppression of sexual identity — the male side of the goatee filled in with hair and the female side only painted pink, as was the original patch that homosexuals were forced to wear. I imagine that the eyes, like my favorite mask from Tommy’s book collection, are Asian/”Mongoloid.”

Tlingit Mask, artist unknown

Tlingit Mask, artist unknown

BUT … HOW TO ACTUALIZE MY DREAM FROM A LOG OF WOOD? How do I create a work of art that can hold a candle to Tommy’s masterpieces?

Tommy Joseph with his masks & helmets

Tommy Joseph with his masks & helmets

From THIS?

Log of Alder Wood

The Log of Alder Wood I will use for my mask


When I get to the studio the next day, I rough out the sketch of what I imagined in the middle of the night from my dream.

Preliminary Drawing for Mask

Preliminary Drawing for Mask © Judith Z. Miller 2009

… and then I do a very rough drawing on the de-barked LOG OF ALDER
Drawing on Log_IMG_6116

We make the first cuts with an ancient Native American tool called an ADZE

First Cuts into Log_IMG_6117

I’ll  jump a number of days to August 29th, where I’ve used the ADZE, gouge and carving knives to rough out the forehead, eyes, cheeks, nose & mouth areas.

Mask: August 29th, 2009

Mask: August 29th, 2009

… And a few more days to August 31st, where the features begin to become defined and a human form begins to take shape.

Mask - August 31, 2009

Mask - August 31, 2009

… on to September 3rd, after defining the forehead and carving the music symbol, defining the eye area & nose – and doing lots of sanding.

Mask - September 3, 2009

Mask - September 3, 2009

.... in today’s post I’ll JUMP  to the last entry on my previous post (dated September 7th), the Mask of September 6th, which showed my project at this stage:

September 6, 2009

September 6, 2009

Working in the Studio

Working in the Studio

… and now, moving on since that last entry, to September 8th, after days of sanding, where I begin to add the layered elements: the hand-sawed ABALONE SHELLS for teeth, the BEAR FUR for eyebrows, and the rough cut of a WOODEN PHALLUS, and drill holes to insert human hair into the PINK TRIANGLE (goatee)

Mask_Sept. 8, 2009

Mask, September 8 © Judith Z. Miller 2009

20090909-Sitka-0663-a (3 inches)

Judith Z. Miller working in Tommy Joseph's studio, Sitka Alaska

I glue on the BEAR FUR and make holes in the wood for the BEARD, made from human hair, paint the MUSIC SYMBOL on the THIRD EYE and the PINK TRIANGLE (which will serve as a goatee on the male side), begin to carve the PHALLUS, and saw and insert the ABALONE SHELL EYES

I’m feeling very excited as I move on to the FINAL TOUCHES: I sand and paint the HEAD OF THE PHALLUS and cut and insert a tiny MIRROR at the tip, along with mirrors in the pupils, I wrap the little sticks with embroidery floss so that the female side will have hair just like mine,  I glue little pieces of HUMAN HAIR together and insert them into the PINK TRIANGLE (goatee) on the right (Male) side, I place PEACOCK FEATHERS where they will be inserted when I travel back to Brooklyn and paint the entire mask with WALNUT OIL … and low-and behold, my FINISHED MASK!!!

Completed Mask © Judith Z. Miller, 2009

The “FEMALE/Asian/Caucasian” side, complete with my dimple 🙂

 © Judith Z. Miller

© Judith Z. Miller

Here another image of the completed project, the “MALE” side of the mask:

Mask_Sept. 14 - MALE side - FINISHED

The Completed Mask - as seen in the front page of The Sitka Sentinel, September 17, 2009, photo by James Poulson

The Completed Mask - as seen in the front page of The Sitka Sentinel, September 17, 2009 photo by James Poulson

Master Carver Tommy Joseph & Judith Z. Miller - South East Alaskan Cultural Center, Sitka National Historical Park, Sitka Alaska, 2009

Master Carver Tommy Joseph & Judith Z. Miller Southeast Alaskan Cultural Center, Sitka National Historical Park, Sitka Alaska, 2009

Each shift of light creates another stunning view

Sitka Sound © Judith Z. Miller, 2009

I’ll write more when I return to Brooklyn  … but for now, I’ve just got to go OUTSIDE before it’s pitch dark, so I can take in the incredible beauty around me.

Russian Church, Sitka Alaska © Judith Z. Miller 2009

Russian Church, Sitka Alaska © Judith Z. Miller 2009

I wish you potent dreams and creative expression!

With special thanks to master carver Tommy Joseph, for his patience, attention and generosity, and to Fractured Atlas for the support of my work.

Judith Z. Miller
aka Artist Soul Speaks

PS I hope you’ll visit my two previous posts dated August 28 & September 7th for more, including images of Sitka, Tommy’s handmade tools, beautiful examples of formline art, and more details on the mask-making process.



About artistsoulspeaks

Zelda (aka Judith Z. Miller) Bio Zelda (aka Judith Z. Miller) is a multifaceted artist who lives in an erotic, musical, spiritual universe. As a feminist Jew who studies shamanism, she is inspired by the beauty of nature and the guiding force of her intuition as she explores the themes of connection to the Earth, spirituality, sexuality and gender. She sculpts, draws, writes, performs, photographs, and is an ecstatic dancer/percussionist/healer. Currently, under an Individual Artist Commission awarded by Arts Mid-Hudson, Zelda is developing Que Será, Será (Whatever Will Be, Will Be), a multi-media one-person show that chronicles the joys and challenges of navigating non-binary Queerness from a childhood in the 1950s to adulthood. This project is made possible with funds from the Decentralization Program, a regrant program of the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature and administered by Arts Mid-Hudson. She is also producing ZELDA’S Happenings, a series of black-light, body-painting, percussion dance parties that will produce original wearable art for a new UpState Artists Clothing Collection representing artists of the region. Zelda co-founded The Fine Line Actors Theatre in Washington DC and performed at such venues as Source, GALA Hispanic Theatre and the Kennedy Center in DC, in NYC at WOW Café Theatre and Dixon Place, at the Lace Mill and with the TMI Project in Kingston. She published in Inside Arts magazine, The Washington Post, and American Theatre magazine. Zelda currently resides at the Lace Mill artist residence in Kingston NY with her Great Dane “Z”.
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1 Response to MISSION ACCOMPLISHED! The Spirit In the Mask

  1. Randy Klein says:

    Judith Miller is the real deal. Art that is filled with passion. Keep checking her out!!!

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