Face maker

Posted: Thursday, June 15, 2000

Inspired by deer teeth, plastic tubing and Salvadore Dali, 14-year-old Orion Peter created the strangest faces to ever enter Valentine's Coffeehouse.

``These are faces I drew on paper that came to life,'' he said.

When Peter started the project last September, his goal was to make an array of masks and display them in a public show. He never expected to sell them.

But even before they went up, offers came in, and he's sold four of the seven masks. They'll remain on display at the coffeehouse gallery through the end of June.

One of the first to sell was ``Lord of the Lava,'' an eyeless red-and-black face festooned with feathers. ``La Bohemienne'' also sold quickly -- this is a grinning crone with gaping teeth Peter described as a cross between a homeless street person and an Eastern European gypsy. Peter pulled the teeth out of a deer jaw with pliers and Superglued them into the mask.

``New York'' is a face with a mouthful of plastic tubes running up to the eye sockets.

``I thought about the future,'' he said. ``There's a lot of pollution, and if they don't cut down, this is how they may be looking.''

``Le Mask Inspire De Australie'' combines African designs with aboriginal Australian motifs.


Many of the masks have French names. Peter's mother is French and he grew up speaking French and English. He lived in France, Singapore and Mexico before coming to Juneau two years ago.

Peter made the masks as part of a year-long independent study project at Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School. Called a Rite Of Passage Experience, or ROPES, the course requires students to work with a mentor outside school. Peter had seen the work of Juneau mask maker Charles Buggs at an exhibit at the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council gallery.

Buggs developed a mask-making technique using cardboard, paper and glue that creates a strong, lightweight shell. Buggs, a former art teacher and museum worker, said he was delighted to mentor Peter.

``I encouraged him to seek his own solutions to problems. He's very inventive,'' he said. ``He came up with a treatment that I never thought of. In fact, I'm going to steal the idea at some point,'' he added laughing.

Peter found the method preferable to carving, as it allowed him to spend more time working on the expressions.

``You have the power to make any kind of face you want,'' he said.

Patricia and Brian Peter, Orion's parents, also provided inspiration. They have a collection of masks from around the world, and Peter said he was fascinated with them as he was growing up. They also have a collection of art books, and are especially fond of the work of Spanish surrealist painter Salvadore Dali.

Brian Peter's job with the U.S. Coast Guard will be taking the family to Washington, D.C., in mid-July. Peter is disappointed to leave Juneau, but excited about the prospects of volunteering in the museums in Washington.

In the meantime, Peter is collecting materials for future projects. He's stockpiled strips of tanned deer hide with hair, bones and rocks, and plans to pick up more materials on the cross-country drive to D.C.

``Come Halloween, when I want to make a really cool mask, I'll know how,'' he said.

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