The Artist – Italiano

Walter's Masks: Work and Love Work

I’m breaking the Law.

What Law?  That is a mystery.  There is some law that says I cannot have exposed Asbestos in my house.

My exposed asbestos is these two unique masks on the left created by Walter, my Canadian/Italian artist friend.  Before he gave them to me in 1986, he diligently and thoroughly shellacked them so those tiny fibers cannot escape and float into my lungs.

I don’t know how he created the masks in the first place.  What about HIS lungs?  Hopefully I’ll find out some time while sharing a fabulous, authentically-prepared Italian dinner – cooked by la madre-il-il cuoco.

In 1985, the Ministry of Education called about a School District that had been declared “unauditable”  – a word that does not appear in any dictionary.  They asked for three months of my time to go North to an asbestos mining town, Cassiar, the center of the Stikine School District, to see if I could bring the situation back into a manageable operation.

Yukon or bust…I hauled out an old muskrat coat with wolf trim and had one of my seamstress friends mend the pelts that had come unattached after years of hanging in a back closet.  In October of 1985, after the temperate climate of the southern coastal areas in British Columbia, I flew to Watson Lake, Yukon and snow.

An older model bus awaited airline passengers heading for Cassiar.  The friendly chatter confirmed that I was the only stranger.  The late, sporadically moon-lit trip took us South to Cassiar, two beams of dim headlights promising an endless ribbon of snow and no signs of habitation.  As the road curved its way around unknown natural obstacles, as the wheels rumbled over bridges with no sides, and as the windshield wipers orchestrated the chatter, I was reminded of Alice’s fall into Wonderland.

After a couple of hours, the driver geared down and made a right hand turn onto a smaller highway.  The snow continued to fall.  Suddenly a hint of light appeared; then lots of light that flooded a tailings pile.  We had arrived very late.  It was after midnight and I had no idea who was meeting my trunk and me.  I’d been told that my greeter would take me to my temporary accommodation…someone’s home who was away on School District business.

My greeter was there and chuckled over my fear of not being met.  She explained that, assuredly, everyone on the bus knew who I was, why I was coming to Cassiar and where I would be staying.

After dealing with an incredible fiscal challenge and getting the District back on it’s feet – thanks to a highly capable assistant named Leslie – the School Board talked me into a three year contract.  Thus, I settled in and discovered a quiet, talented artist named Walter.  When he gave me the two asbestos masks, his gesture thrilled me to my soul’s core.  Since my home on the West Coast is a small artist’s colony, it was a balm that there was at least one artistically gifted person available as a friend.

In the world of mining, the color of the hardhat indicates the person’s rank and file within the hierarchy of positions.  The White Hats are worn by people in management positions.  The other colored hats represented all the other positions – those in the union membership.  In the Cookery and in the Lounge, the hard hats may have been replaced by caps, but the colors were invisibly clustered together by choice.  In either location, white hats were frequently referred to as the ‘turkeys’.

Watchman I

After Christmas or Easter, Walter was reportedly collecting turkey carcasses from the Cookery.  We heard he was putting them on the roof of the family home.  I didn’t have a lot of opportunity to run into Walter, but I was dying to find out what he was doing.

Finally, I had a chance, “Walter, are those turkey carcasses on your roof?”

Walter was born in Cassiar , a birth rite that only his sister and he could claim out of all the remaining residents.  However, since his father and mother came from Italy, his family maintained many Italian traditions including the love of their language.  Therefore, Walter had, and still has, the slightest accent – likely undetectable to himself.

“Yes.  I put them there some time ago,” he said.

“Are you trying to bleach the bones in the sun?” I asked.

“Well, that may happen.  But no.  I’m waiting for the ravens to clean them.”

“Awww, you are feeding the ravens!”

“No. Well, yes… I guess I am.”  He grinned.  “But I want the ravens to pick the bones clean,” he added.

“What are you going to do with them?” I asked.

“I’ll bring you something and show you.”  Walter popped around later with a small bundle.

Watchman II

Watchman II

He unwrapped a gift that a gemologist friend  from the South had sent to him.  It was the chips, fragments and tiny pieces of all sorts of precious and semi-precious gems, a dazzling, miniature pirate’s chest.  Walter, the Michelangelo of Re-Cycling, was beaming with delight over this incredibly generous gesture of a distant contact.

“So what does this have to do with turkey carcasses,” I asked.

“I will take those carcasses and make sure they are all well cleaned.  And, as you said, if they are bleached white in the sun, that will be a bonus.  In fact, maybe I will bleach them.”

He rolled the gems back into their container.  “Now think about the shape of a turkey carcass.  If you trim it and turn it just so, you have a mask, right?”

I got the gist.  “Then?”

“Well, then I glue the gems onto the bones in a variety of shapes of colors and give them each a unique design.”

“And what do you do with these masks?”

“I give them as gifts to the White Hats.”  Walter’s laugh sounded like one from a Fellini movie.

” And…,” he added, “they STILL haven’t caught on!”

One thought on “The Artist – Italiano

  1. Pingback: The Archangels Have Left The Building « Soul Dipper

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