Mi’gmaw carver says every mask he carves has a story to tell

Gordon Sparks guides his chisel across a piece of wood that will, eventually, become a mask. The tools Sparks, from the Pabineau Mi’gmaq Nation, uses helps the mask carve out the story of the forest.

“I’m intentionally putting the heartbeat in when I’m hitting the mallet to the chisel, thump thump thump thump thump, and it develops so the more heartbeats I put into it, the more it’s beating the more it comes alive and presents itself to me,” he tells APTN News.

Sparks says carving masks, for him, is more than art. It begins when he’s harvesting a tree.

“It will be a back and forth conversation once more and it will continue to let me know where to go and what to do at that time it slowly presenting itself to me,” he says. “It’s like a long lost relative or it’s exactly what it is, it’s the spirit of the tree presenting itself to me.”

Sparks’ studio is located in Bathurst, New Brunswick on the Atlantic coast overlooking Nepisiguit Bay. It’s where every carving starts with ceremony and every mask speaks to him.

“There’s a point where the eyes will start presenting itself, the mouth will start presenting itself, the nose will start showing itself, and the conversation that I’m having with it, is it will tell me you know, “I want a bigger nose, or my nose is smaller,’” he says.

Gordon Sparks
One of Sparks’ creations. Photo: Angel Moore/APTN.

Noah Gastelum manages Culture Skateshop and shares space with Sparks’ tattoo studio.

“You know when we have customers come in and ask questions and to have him, you know, relate his experiences to the masks and all the dedication and work it takes to make these, and then pass that on to the customer, that’s to me that’s a fantastic aspect of what we do here you know,” says Gastelum.

Sparks says it takes him about three months to carve a single mask which can fetch $10,000.

“Each mask has its own length its own duration of time, there’s no I’m not trying to mass produce them,” he says. “Making is also a way to learn oneself and learn many many things that the tree has to teach.”

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