Spruce root gas mask; Tonto's Earthen House

On Surviving a Pandemic and Beyond, a Humble Spruce Root Gas Mask

This spruce root gas mask is from Tonto’s Earthen House, circa 2013 for a public art project. I’ve been examining the idea of making protective equipment for living in the “end times” whatever that means. Maybe awakening an indigenous mask with the protective powers of my ancestors? And using the filters in mask that can block viruses of course. I know it’s kind of ghastly to be thinking about what is out there that may wipe out humans, but on the other hand, we are in the midst of a life changing pandemic right now. Many of us don’t know if we’ll survive, and most of us have responded in a decisive manner by doing the social distancing that will help save us from even worse mass deaths. Fingers crossed and all that.

And in the mundaneness of staying at home, I often find myself thinking of the heroes out there risking their lives for us every minute of every day. The heroes who are dying on the front line to help us. Doctors, nurses, physician’s assistants, firemen, police officers, truck drivers who deliver food to supermarkets, gas station workers, and the everyday people who work at grocery stores, like my brother Brad who manages a store in California. You have our endless gratitude from the bottom of our hearts.

They know the dangers of the pandemic, yet they’re off to work anyway. Often without the safety gear they need like masks, gloves, hand sanitizer and such. It infuriates so many of us that our president is hindering and even blocking getting these supplies to the people who will help stop this pandemic.

I fully realize that my role in this pandemic is to help myself and others survive. I suspect and hope that my role will be helping our university get back to the business of educating our next generation. This is more critical than ever; we can’t stop the educational process in the midst of this pandemic.

I realize that the humanities are important to our future evolution and well-being. What we have to offer humanity is helping to make sense of what often makes no sense at all. And we often offer a moral compass to those in need of direction, especially people working in various fields. A liberal arts education has been proven to be the catalyst for creative and innovative thought that helps solve the overwhelming problems of the day. And it serves as a mode of thinking that acts as a pathway into any number of specialized fields, which is why a four year liberal arts degree is so widely respected as a foundation for advanced degrees.

The vintage spruce root basket is from my own collection of Killer Whale baskets from the Chilkat Valley at Klukwan. It’s a beautiful quasi-abstracted pattern of Keet teeth that you can see if you look hard enough. I love the metaphor of Killer Whale teeth as both a spirit animal, warrior and beautiful being. And family member; I am from the Keet Gooshi Hít, Killer Whale Fin House at Klukwan, Alaska.

When I was figuring out how to make this mask, I asked Teri Rofkar the master weaver if she was interested in collaborating. She was not feeling well, but really liked the idea. When I finished the spruce root mask she loved it and wanted to barter. We never did get to do any swaps, but it made me feel good that she connected with the work.

I’m making new versions of Indigenous gas masks for new art in the midst of this pandemic. Actually I’m nearly two months behind because I have no access to the photography studio and the mannequin head arrived late for the production work. Before the pandemic I went to our Army Surplus store to get a few more gas masks. Some of them are kind of scary looking and are from the USA and other countries. While closely examining them I found myself wondering if they still work or if they’re just empty shells now. If they’re empty shells, I can fix that.

That is me wearing the spruce root mask in this public art piece. I couldn’t find any models on short notice, so I did what I usually do. Used myself. And the other cool part of this public art project was making a Chilkat Killer Whale car. More on that in another post. Be safe in this pandemic my friends.

Copyright Larry McNeil 2020 stay dawgs stay