Over the last 10 years I have made a number of Corn Masks for exhibition and performance. Each mask is being created in a different context and location. This piece of work started after a period of Arts Council funded research in 2004-5 and being inspired by veteran corn dolly maker Dorothy Horsfall (now deceased).
In 2005 four masks were made with three other artists for a performance at the House of Commons in London.
Recent masks were commissioned by Castlefield Gallery for exhibition in June 2013 and created during a week in residence at Newlyn Gallery, Penzance in November 2013. During the residency people were invited to engage in conversation, watch footage of the 2005 performance, weave the corn and see the mask being created. The most recent mask was made for a ritual/performance as part of A Field of Wheat.
The project revitalises and contemporizes the art of corn dolly making and and wheat straw weaving. Corn dollies are the English version of a worldwide phenomenon of weaving stems and heads of 'grasses' into decorations or fabrics. Corn Dollies are symbolic objects that were hung up in people’s houses over the Winter. There are accounts that the corn dollies were buried or ploughed back into the earth in Spring or fed to animals to ensure a good, new crop. Sometimes Corn Dollies are made from the last sheaf of wheat from the harvest which some people thought contained ‘the spirit’ of the crop. No one knows when people started weaving straw or relating this to harvest time.
Each Corn Mask is unique. Once the masks are displayed and used in performance they are buried in the ground or burnt.
I am grateful for the support of Gillian Nott from The Guild of Strawcraftsmen.