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Painting is silent poetry, and poetry is painting that speaks. Simonides

Peggy Bjerkan

"Some of you may wonder why I'm putting so much energy into the making of masks. Well, after years of being a maker of many different things, I finally began to dabble in masks (inspired by my own collection of masks from around the world). It dawned on me, after the first few that I made, that a path was opening up before me. I knew that I didn't want to copy foreign masks or even to borrow ideas from them. I did want to be a part of the mask tradition. Thus began my journey. Very early on, around 1998, I decided that I would make "American" masks with contemporary ideas - my contribution to the tradition. After a while, the masks became more and more personal which seemed a natural progression. I continue making them with the hope that some of the ideas I present are universal."

I use several methods to form my masks. My favorite is to sculpt over a hump (a built-up surface). I form each piece with earthenware clay and then carve it back to bring out and define the details. Sometimes I will make a mold of one of these pieces. I use the molds as starting points for new masks: either pressing soft clay into them or slipcasting. Each mask is then altered and further sculpted to become a unique piece. When the masks are completely dry - from 2 days to 3 weeks - I paint them with underglazes and fire them to cone 04. Some pieces are painted with other glazes and fired again. When all firing is completed, I use colored gessoes, acrylics and Prismacolor pencils to define the features. One to four coats of varnish are then applied. At this point, many pieces get some type of "mixed media" addition: I like to make "hair" out of my own hand-painted silk cords or bits of wire or leather. Lately, I've been having fun using driftwood and river stones and I sculpt many small clay parts to help each mask tell its story.

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