Article from High Timber Times Newspaper-
By Gabrielle Porter
Wednesday, January 18, 2012
Hidden talents Mask-making lets Gail Austin’s students reveal their inner artist, find their muses
Gail Austin is a Viking warrior. Or at least something inside her is. Conifer artist Gail Austin adds a finishing touch to a mask titled “Goddess". This is my inner warrior goddess,” Austin said, gesturing to a ceramic mask lying on a table. It had narrowed eyes and a Nordic-style design on the forehead. “(It’s) an angry aspect of me.” Austin was in the studio in her Pine Junction home a few weeks before the first section of her two-part ceramic mask-making class. Austin uses meditation in the class to draw out the “subconscious” in each person. She teaches the class to as many as 10 or 12 people about twice a year from the studio. Participants go through two classes in which they design, form and paint a mask.
Austin turns on ethereal music and guides participants through a meditation at the beginning of the class in which they find their “inner goddess”. Occasionally men attend the class; Austin tells them to find their “inner god”. Austin was surprised when she emerged from the meditation with the warrior goddess image. “When it came out of me, I said, ‘What’s that about?’ ” she said, adding that she sees in the mask elements of her that are “pushed around and pissed off. It’s a huge creative process, getting to know yourself,” Austin said. The meditation exercise yields similarly unexpected results in her students. “They do get an actual image, which I think is amazing,” Austin said. “They really like it”. But where do the images come from? “I don’t know,” Austin said. “Maybe the subconscious or something. “I know it sounds woo-woo, but it’s really fun.” Austin spoke like this — lightly, almost with embarrassment — whenever she mentioned the class’ spiritual aspects. “I guess I’m a little shy. … People think you’re weird with the spiritual stuff,” she said. “(But) I guess people are waking up.” Austin has had one student who wouldn’t participate in the meditation. Austin told her she could just observe. “She thought it was kind of weird,” Austin said. “I guess her family is really Christian and for some reason she didn’t feel that was something she wanted to do.” Creating after the class has had their inspirational meditation, students roll out the soft clay and design their masks. Austin demonstrates how to score the material to make features — noses, eyes, mouths — stick to the mask. A small class can turn out a huge variety of styles and concepts, she said. “You’re expressing yourself … with your own spirit,” she said. “Everybody has a totally unique experience.” After the class, Austin lets the masks dry for two or three weeks before she bakes them in the kiln just outside the door. About a month after the first class, the participants come back to glaze the masks and put on their finishing touches. An accessible medium, Austin is a lifelong artist whose main emphasis has been in watercolor painting. A medium like ceramics is more welcoming to beginners, though, she said. She started working in ceramics about 10 years ago, and has taught the class now for seven years. “I really feel that people need to create,” Austin said. “(But) I feel that people are intimidated by the process of creation.”