Finishing details, a carver once remarked to me, are what makes a mask. Our latest acquisition, Ron Telek’s “Coming of the Winter Storm” is a perfect illustration of this basic truth.
Stripped to the basics, the mask is a standard Telek face. The nose, with its short length and separate cups for each nostril, is visible on any number of Telek’s previous works. So are the lines of the cheek, the even width of the lips, and the broad forehead. The eyes are somewhat unusual, since each wraps around two sides of the face, but not their shape. All in all, the basic face is so characteristic of Telek’s work that it could have been roughed out by an apprentice (and by some accounts, it might have been).
However, what makes this piece are the finishing details. For example, the hands raised to the face suggest the depiction of the winds on old European maps. Yet, if you look closely, you see that they are much smaller than the size of the face would make you expect. Either the wind spirit is a dwarf like the Bukwus, or its proportions are altogether non-human.
Then there is the paint. Like his uncle Norman Tait, Telek does not often use color, and, in the few instances I’ve seen where he does, the color is not especially subtle. But on “Coming of the Winter Storm,” Telek manages a delicate blending of red and blue to suggest cold and chafed skin that is completely unexpected. When I say that the blending is worthy of Beau Dick or Simon Dick, followers of Northwest Coast art should understand how subtle it is.
But of course the most striking feature of the mask is its hair and eyebrows. The difference in their color is a master-stroke by itself, emphasizing the non-humanity of the spirit. The same is true of the unusual angles of the hair, and the length and angles of the brows. The fact that the hair and brow are formed by four dozen separate plugs shows a patient attention to detail.
Another point I might have missed if we didn’t already own four pieces by Telek is the finishing. Almost all of Telek’s wood sculptures are sanded so smooth they might be ivory, with a careful consideration of how the grain might enhance the work. Here, though, Telek has left parts chipped and rough – largely where the daubs of red appear. It is a detail that seems much more appropriate to this rough figure than Telek’s usual finishing.
This attention to detail uplifts what could have been something ordinary into the extraordinary. Quite literally, it made us decide to postpone redoing the kitchen floor in order to obtain the mask while we could. Now, it sits below the clock, an eye-catching piece from any angle in our living room.