Anthropology 106 with Dr. Kearton

Note: I could not have created the bronze sculpture of the Ivory Coast mask without the assistance of bronze sculptor John Battenberg, who was then teaching art at San Jose State University. He made it possible to use his “ovens,” to create the work, and I have discovered that some of his huge full body pieces are available through the IWolk Gallery in Napa.

Do you have any idea how heavy bronze can get? My mask shown below must weight more than 20 pounds; it’s solid bronze. Dr. Kearton thought I should shop it around at galleries back in the early 1970s.

I also recall John Battenberg visiting the home rented by John Morrall and me in San Jose. John had created a floor high”maze” for Halloween. Guests, including the artist Battenberg, entered through the front door. They had to get on their hands and knees and then crawl through from one level to the next, finally sliding down into the living room. I think I filled the “maze” with balloons to create some extra atmosphere!

[Image of a very old book about traveling to the West Coast of Africa. I wanted to go so badly. Below that is the receipt for the book,one of the most expensive books I had ever bought but it was a book of dreams for me.]
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When I went to San Jose State (SJS) way back when, my major was in the Social Sciences. Most women I knew expected to go into social work of some kind. Even though all I wanted to do was write, there was no encouragement, no one to say: “hey, do this, then do that.” I did have a column in the “Lincoln Log,” at Lincoln High School but nobody edited it; I have to admit it was truly written by the “child” I was.

I also came from a bilingual family, and that can be a tough road when you don’t understand the ways of the culture you’re living in. Some of you may not understand this, but believe me, the path is tougher. I was pretty and that helped. I admit it.

At SJS, I was on my own.

Social Science included history, anthropology and sociology. I took psychology courses, too, because I had become addicted to Dr. Freud and Dr. Jung at a very young age. Symbolism and inner goings on and the meanings of dreams, what a turn-on for me. Psychology became my minor. Today, I hear of double and triple and quadruple majors; where do they find the time? Certainly, the internet helps. We had to read real books back then, stacks of them.

Dr. Kearton was my anthropology professor (sounds better than teacher, don’t you think?) Not only nice but kind enough to allow me to take Independent Studies when I broke my arm in a bicycling accident. I couldn’t write or type with the broken arm, I think the break was at the elbow.

(I lived in a house some blocks from SJS with other artist-type students (including my future ex-husband) and we all biked to school. The weather was balmy, we were without our parents, and learning about personal choices and freedom.

Dr. Kearton’s anthro class focussed on Africa, and I was very interested. Remember, I am a deep romantic and I found an obsession with the Ivory Coast, located on the west side of Africa. French-influenced originally, but now in turmoil. I never got to visit the Ivory Coast but I made an African dance mask, using the lost wax casting method.

I’m going to get a little blurry because I forget how I did it. But I used black colored wax (I guess) to carve the features of the mask, the eyes, nose and mouth, and horns. I used a special metal  tool and I loved working on the project because it was so gratifying. A face emerged just like the one I was copying from a book of African masks. This was from Benin on the Ivory Coast. (I may have to re-check that connection.)

My future ex-husband was a terrific artist. He could do anything. He’s the one who taught me about art and gave me an intense love of paintings and sculpture and circular buildings. His sculpture teacher was John Battenburg, who was well known for real-size sculptures—like a man on a motorcycle. So I had access to the foundry in the art department. That meant after I finished the wax part of the sculpture, I could put it in the intense heat of the  foundry where the wax melted and was replaced by bronze.

You see, in the end my Benin mask was made of pure bronze, and is very heavy. I still have it today. Of course, it does not match the beautiful original but Dr. Kearton liked it enough to advise me to try to sell it at the local galleries. I didn’t have enough self-esteem to do so and the mask stayed with me which is just fine. A good memory.

Long after I graduated from SJS,I tried to get plane tickets to the Ivory Coast. I was going alone, my usual modus operandi.

I found a travel agent who specialized in exotic trips; that was back when hardly anybody went anywhere. Not like today. The travel agent told me there was trouble brewing in the area and it might not be a good idea for me to go, especially not alone. She said she had a contact who traveled around West Africa and she would soon get a report from him. This was in the early 1980s, I’d say.

A few days later the report came and the travel agent said: too dangerous now. Forget it.

So I never got to the Ivory Coast but I kept my mask,a reminder of a long ago dream.

Meanwhile what happened to Dr. Kearton and John Battenburg?

[Images: Above my “copy” of the original Benin below.)

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About June Morrall

1947 - 2010
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