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At the 1999 Great Mohican Gathering - on June 13 - after the general raffle, but before the grand raffle of one of Eric Schweig's Adoption Masks, Eric sat for 15 minutes or so and answered questions from the assembled Gatherers about his carvings, most specifically about the mask hanging on the wall as he spoke. It was perhaps 7:45PM. What follows is an edited version of that question and answer period.


About how long does it take you to turn out one of these masks?

Sixteen to eighteen hours for 3 days, but if I take my time, like a normal mortal would do, a week.

For how long have you been making the masks?

I've been playing with wood since I was old enough to pick up a knife, but about a year and a half. It took my buddy, Vern, four years to talk me into it and finally I buckled under the pressure. More or less, he said, "Well, if you're not doing the movies, do masks!" About a year and a half.

We've heard a lot about Vern. How long have you known him?

About ten years. He's a good guy. He's my bro'.

Where is he from?

Vern's from Telegraph Creek in northern BC ... he's a Tahltan Indian.

Is there a symbolism in the parts of the mask? Why the feathers are as they are?

Nope, it's just right there, screaming at you. That's about as symbolic as you can get. There's no real rhyme or reason for the color or the feathers. I just try whatever works, whatever appeals to me, whatever looks ... powerful on it. I'll try it. If it's ostrich plumage, or eagle feathers, or turkey feathers ... whatever looks good, I'll put it on.

Up there [on the Web Site] it had white feathers. Why black feathers now?

I don't know. I just switched them. [laughs]

Are there certain colors that are more symbolic than others?

I like ... well, it depends on the person. I like white and black & red. Those are my favorite colors. No, not really. I take orders for masks and get people to ... I started this idea of... You know those color charts you get in paint stores? Just to send those. If they want a certain color in a mask, just go get a little color coded thing and check it off, put it in the mail, I'll sit there with the paint and match it. It's a good idea.

Is there a special kind of wood you use?

It's indigenous to BC ... to British Columbia. It's red cedar and yellow cedar. Red cedar is kind of soft. It's a little harder to work with. Yellow cedar is more homogenous, more like butter. You can carve it easier sideways, against the grain, than red cedar. But, we use that all the time. Or, they use alder up there. That's about it.

Eric Schweig At The Gathering

Do you take a piece of wood and say, "This is what this particular piece of wood would look like," or do you have something in mind before you start carving?

Usually, I have something in mind before I start carving. I just rough it out with a chain saw, then go at it with a adz. Then ... the blades ... the method gets ... is kind of ... Neanderthal at first. You got to bash the hell out of it! "Rrrr ... rrrr ... rrrr ... rrrr!" Then you got to beat on it with an adz! Then, slowly, as it gets down to the crunch, you're using smaller and smaller knives ... and stuff like that. But yeah, usually you have an idea of what you're going to do.

Your hands look like you've practiced a lot ... You don't have scars on them.

Oh yeah ... I do! [laughs]

You sliced your thumb ...

Yeah, it happens once in a while. There's some guys who are really superstitious about it and, you know, they don't want to have band aids in the house, because it's a curse. It's bad luck to have band aids in the house. But then they complain when they slash their ... when they stab themselves in the leg and there's blood all over, "Where's the band aids?!?" [laughs]

Do you do any sketches first ... or drawings?

On the wood you do ... really rough with a soft ...

On paper, with color ... just to try color combinations?

No, not really. You trace it on. Depending on what ... the west coast stuff has a lot of ... it's really symmetrical so, they'll do one side. They'll design one side, then use tracing paper and then flip it over to the other side of the head so that everything's even. And, as far as color, you just play around with it until you get what you want.

Are those screaming masks more difficult than other ones that you've done?

Uhmmm ... not really, no. I get such a charge out of it that it doesn't seem hard. Nothing does. Like no matter what it is. I get such a kick out of making it ... just the whole process. Whatever. I like the whole process. I like the idea of just getting up and sitting there with good company - which is my buddy Vern - and just laughing all day, just the whole thing. Right from the start, the smell of it, the smell of the wood, the way it feels ... the way, you know, when you shape it and you do different things with it. I like the whole thing, from start to finish.

And they are one piece?

It's all one piece ... except for the hoop in the back. I have to go out and ... You know, I find it an interesting paradox that I go to a park in the city ... While HUGE lumber companies like McMillan & Bloedel are kicking Indian people off their land and slashing down huge old growth trees that are two hundred years old, but people will look at me funny if I go to their parks in the city and take a little saw to cut out a little hoop about that big [indicates approximate size of the hoop appendage], and they're staring at me. "What are you looking at?" It doesn't make any sense.


Shortly after, Eric said, "Good luck everyone," reached into a box filled with raffle tickets, and drew the winner.




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