My name is Gordon Sparks, my clan mother is the beaver, clan spirit animal the bear, born from the Turtle River, and the salmon is our clan dotem, raised in Pabineau First Nation, now living in Rough Waters N.B. Canada. The traditional hand-carved wooden mask has taken me on a vision path that is guiding my mind, body, and spirit to seek knowledge and wisdom of the Mi'kmaw people’s stories, traditional ceremonies, traditional food, and medicine. Each mask that I make is from my life story, and the people of Mi’kma’ki. Each mask, has a personal story on how I was guided to find the tree, take its life, carve the spirit out of the wood for all to see, and listen to what it has to say to ears that need to hear it. The vision I have been given guides my passion, and desire to record the past and present, with three dimensional form. I strongly believe in the traditional hand-carved wooden mask, traditional ceremony and storytelling. Each mask speaks to me, guides me, the tree that is chosen speaks to me to carve the spirit of our ancestors and the stories of our life givers and life protectors that live here in Mi’kma’ki, to be shown to all people of the land. In the end the spirits of the trees will speak of my people of today and my ancestors of the past, through the wooden mask, storytelling, and the language of the land. My work as a Mi’kmaw artist represents tradition for the Mi'kmaw people, to guarantee the preservation of traditional values, new and old ceremonies, oral storytelling, and the gathering of people to share in life stories together.
Recently I was awarded funds by Canada Council to harvest a butternut tree that was originally gifted to Ned Bear; after he passed I met the person who had planted the tree and offered it to Ned; she subsequently gifted the tree to me and we have harvested it in ceremony this summer. The wood will be stored in my workshop and will be ready to carve once the designs have been researched and developed. I wish to carve 7 masks representing 7 knowledge keepers’ traditional visual languages. The final phase of my knowledge gathering will be to interview knowledge keepers such as Cecilia Brooks, a knowledge keeper of plants and medicines, George Paul and Tully Paul, ceremonial keepers, Mickey Kryszko, a hunter and warrior, Jerome Steven one that makes things to carry basketry, Nancy Oakley, pottery master, Tara Francis and Melissa Peter Paul, quill workers, Natasha Martin-Mitchell and Stephanie LaBillois, leatherworkers and clothing makers.
I want to expand my knowledge of language of the land so I can share it through my mask and skin art. I want to share this knowledge in community, and more broadly in the arts world through museums exhibitions and tours in Wabanaki communities. This project is calling to me and has been for several years. It is the next step in my artistic growth and will contribute to the revival of skin art and mass ceremony. Masks are not inanimate objects; they speak to me and they provide access to a way of knowing beyond our everyday experiences. I need to create and share with my community, and to express the cultural legacy that has been passed on to me by ceremony. It is for this reason that I do fast and sweats.
I will be carving one large mask out of the gifted butternut tree at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery that will share the knowledge and teachings from Ned Bear, master wooden mask carver to student, me, wooden mask carver from the perspective of my own indigenous experiences. This mask will talk of the mask medicine that I have been gifted and have the Honour and obligation to share it with all people of the land. The mask will then come with me to London, UK, for the Craft Alliance Atlantic Association events.