Ben Boettger/Peninsula Clarion This clay mask made by Helene Griffith was photographed on Tuesday, Aug. 30 in Kenai. This weekend Griffith will begin leading free mask-making workshops at the Reading Corner Bookstore in Kenai, and will open her Ancient Earth Art Gallery on Oct. 1. The gallery will exhibit masks made in the workshop at the end of October.

Ben Boettger/Peninsula Clarion This clay mask made by Helene Griffith was photographed on Tuesday, Aug. 30 in Kenai. This weekend Griffith will begin leading free mask-making workshops at the Reading Corner Bookstore in Kenai, and will open her Ancient Earth Art Gallery on Oct. 1. The gallery will exhibit masks made in the workshop at the end of October.

Masks of Earth

Helene Griffith said she’s naming her new art gallery after an entity she described as “the master creator.” Her Ancient Earth Gallery will open on Mission Street on Oct. 1.

This Saturday she’ll begin her artistic activity in Kenai with a free clay mask-making workshop, hosted by Kenai’s Reading Corner Bookstore at 902 Highland Avenue. Griffith will supply clay, and said anyone interested can make a mask. She’ll continue hosting the workshops until late October.

Griffith said masks have been a longtime artistic interest of hers. The masks she makes are for decorative rather than theatrical purposes, meant to be hung on a wall rather than worn. She shapes their expressions from lumps of clay and will often incorporate found material such as driftwood and grasses — “whatever’s earthy, because the clay is earthy,” she said.

After leading visitors through two months of mask-making, the results of Griffith’s workshop will go on display in the Ancient Earth Gallery at the end of October, coinciding with Halloween. At the beginning of October Ancient Earth will open with an exhibit of Alaskan landscape photography. Afterward, she’ll be seeking more local artists to show on her walls.

The free public mask workshop will be the start of a tradition Griffith wants the Ancient Earth Gallery to maintain — being “a gathering place for the arts.” She plans to show local painters, photographers, sculptors and others, and hopes that some of them will also work in the gallery and teach monthly classes there. She herself plans to teach daily art classes — covering painting and drawing as well as claywork — from 3 p.m to 9 p.m.

Griffith previously exhibited her masks at a gallery she owned in Prince George, British Columbia, where she lived until moving to Kenai three months ago. She came following her son, a machinist moving for a new job.

“I’m doing my dream,” she said of the move to Kenai. “I wanted to come to a place where it’s untouched, or as untouched as possible, by what’s going on on the planet, the total destruction of our environment. I find that Alaska still holds the way it used to be, and the way it could be. There’s a potential that if we honored the Earth it could change things. I think it’s the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen.”

Griffith, who called herself “a student of Zen Buddhism and Daoist philosophy,” said her approach to making art relies on an escape from self-consciousness.

“You basically stop your internal dialogue and your self-criticism, and you become like a child again,” Griffith said. “No inhibitions, and you create from your inner peace, without criticism, without anything you’ve ever learned. Just do it like children do.”

The resulting masks, Griffith said, reveal more than conceal.

“People have done masks for centuries, and it just represents basically our spirit form, who we are or who we want to be,” Griffith said. “Who you hope to be or who you don’t want to be. You see something and you can put your hopes and fears into it.”

Reach Ben Boettger at ben.boettger@peninsulaclarion.com.

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