When Chris first approached me with this idea — of a Sedna holding a tea set — there were a few ideas that came to my mind. I sketched a few of these but it was this one with the Sedna on her back, holding the tray with her hands and tail, that really felt right. In making it this way it allowed me to sculpt as much of her as possible.
In the original design, she was to look up at the tea-set but as I began shaping it, it felt as if it would make more sense if she looked towards the viewer — she still has control and but would, at the same time, show poise.
After spending a number of days in the grinding room, she began to take shape. Going by the sketch I had her wearing a parka. One evening Jo-Ann and I were in the studio and were talking about the piece and it came out that she didn’t like the parka. After some discussion and some more looking, I decided to present her nude. Jo-Ann’s idea turned out to be perfect — allowing me to expose more of her and allowing for a sense of vulnerability. It also allowed me to better express her strength through the thickness of her arms. Her hands had to be fingerless as it goes with the legend better. With the parka removed, it gave me room to have her hair go along her back and up around to her navel. The belly-button had to be included as well — I have used it in several older pieces, because for me, it is about life and birth. As she is nude, she obviously had to have breasts — and I wanted them to appear as if they are being pushed together as she is holding up the tea-set.
Her face was being left for last, I have never made a feminine face before… and I wanted to make sure I would get it right. When it was time to start her face I had a few things in mind: First was the Mona Lisa (because of her smile, or little smirk — as I like to think of it as). Second was that I came across an image by the painter J.A.D. Ingres (1780-1867) of Mademoiselle Riviere from 1805 (Modern Art — from 1800 to Present). This image was also a reference for her face. I was looking for a mature woman with a look of confidence, which also had to be transferred over to the eyes.
For the tea-set, I played around with some ideas and it was this shape for the tray that I liked the most. I changed the original position, which allowed for her head to be more exposed. This was around the time that Jo-Ann and I were in Toronto. Just before we had left from home I was looking for the size I was to make the tea set. Jo-Ann and I had a great chat with Chris on the way to your house for the evening. In that short car ride, there were ideas bouncing around in my head. Chris had mentioned more animals… and I worked from there, trying to get as many in there as possible.
An idea that I had thought of before the Toronto trip was to have the kayak in the middle — and the head of a narwhal on one side and its tail on the other — this ultimately changed for the better. On that same trip I picked up Ingo Hassel’s newest book Arctic Spirit and this helped me with more ideas. I had the kayak figured out and I knew that the narwhal had to stay… only some other way. The caribou came about after some thinking of how I was to put it together. At first thought, I was to have the lid handle to the creamer/caribou as a harpoon that the man had used. I ended up changing this to simply having no handle at all. This allowed him to be holding the harpoon but there is no actual violence depicted — and it helped to keep everything simple visually… not too cluttered. I opted out for legs on the caribou because I didn’t want the caribou to be taller than the man in the kayak. It also makes better visual sense because caribou are hunted in the water and this keeps with the water theme.
Now saying that the narwhal was to be in there is one thing… but to have it so that it is interesting as well, is quite another! I spent the better part of two days working on that idea and it didn’t gel until late one evening just before going in for the night. I had dropped my keys and as I was getting up, I looked at a drawing on a cupboard door. It was a drawing my daughter Alex made for us when she was in Grade 2. It is of a little girl on the back of a narwhal. It was perfect. Making the narwhal this way allows the viewer to see the narwhal from head to tail. So it was figured out, and the making began.
I was able to use the kayak model as a reference for the tea-pot. I had to make molds for the caribou and the narwhal, as this would allow me to get the shapes to fit together perfectly. After making the main parts, I moved onto the figure, antlers, tusk, apertuk, paddle and harpoon. As these came together I was able to get a better sense of the entire piece… and it felt like there was something missing! So this is where the birds came into play. (Again, in Arctic Spirit — there were ideas to help me along). In the book, some birds were on top of a post. After trying this idea, I scrapped it because it took away from the main pieces. So it was the one post with three birds that ended up creating a finish to the piece. It allows the viewer to travel from top to bottom and around in the visual plane.
Because Jo-Ann had so much input, I decided to use lignum vitea for the colour, green, the same as Jo-Ann’s eyes. And, of course, I had to add the silver for the sparkle, as this sets the colour of the eyes off. The last thing to make were the earrings. I wanted to include more sea creatures, so I ended up using the seal and a salmon. The scales were needed to break up the wide bands of smooth stone. I wanted the scales to act as a sleeve, as if she has pulled herself through.
When all pieces were made and all the detailing was completed it was then time to polish and etch. With the stone treatment, I wanted to have a nice smooth face, arms and chest. The scales were to be left textured because it felt more like scales this way. And her hair works as a texture. I Tung-oiled what was polished and waxed the textured parts.
The etching was left for last, as I wanted to be able to spend a full day at it — and not have to concentrate on anything else. For the kayak — the look I was after was the stitched hide, so I added the sections with the stitching and some texture to set it off. The caribou was to have the look of hair/fur. And I wanted the look of a narwhal so I found some great photos to go by.
Overall I am very pleased with this piece. The tea set has a nice size and the balance between the two major elements works well. For me, the piece overall represents Sedna in all her glory. Her hair is left loose, allowing all creatures to roam free. She appears fingerless and the wounds are healed. She takes on the form of a sea creature from where she has been sent. She holds the tea-set with ease — and the tea-set represents the sea and land with the birds in the sky.
It was a pleasure to work on this piece, especially know that it will be amongst a great collection. Thank you for asking me to create this and I hope that you enjoy the piece for many years. I apologize for not getting this completed in time for your anniversary. And a very happy belated anniversary!!!!!!
Massie’s work is a reflection of his mixed Inuit, Métis and Scottish heritage. In it, he investigates both traditional and contemporary themes. He has achieved renown for his innovative teapots that combine themes and symbols from his native Inuit culture with European traditions. Massie has been twice short-listed for the coveted Prix Saidye Bronfman and has an extensive international reputation. His work has been shown in North America and Europe, including the National Gallery of Canada. He was elected a member of Royal Canadian Academy of Arts in 2011.
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