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
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>.
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!).
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.
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.
DREAMING MY ART
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 WAKE WITH INSPIRATION.
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,” …
… and drawn into “SPIRITUAL SELF PORTRAITS.”
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.”
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?
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.
… and then I do a very rough drawing on the de-barked LOG OF ALDER
We make the first cuts with an ancient Native American tool called an ADZE
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.
… And a few more days to August 31st, where the features begin to become defined and a human form begins to take shape.
… on to September 3rd, after defining the forehead and carving the music symbol, defining the eye area & nose – and doing lots of sanding.
.... 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:
… 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) …
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!!!
The “FEMALE/Asian/Caucasian” side, complete with my dimple 🙂
Here another image of the completed project, the “MALE” side of the mask:
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.
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.