“ I was raised in a pretty nasty regime, and it all came out through artwork, that’s all I did. I mean, I start the carving when I was like… 8, with Jackknifes and then, to supplement my income when I got older, I just start to carve masks. I just do it because it’s … because I can freak out and… I am my own boss and… you know, it keeps the spiders away. And that’s what I love doing, I like the smell of red cedar, I like the smell of wood, I was raised with it so, I love it.”
“If I had any advice for young people, it would be to find out whatever it is you love to do, and do it, and don’t let anybody derail you from what you want to do. Just look inside your hearth, and find out what it is, and go after it. And do it ‘till your dead. I like carving masks, I have been carving since I was a little kid and I am gonna do it until my fingers don’t work anymore, or I can’t see, and that’s what we should be doing.” Eric Schweig, Blackstone’s interview (2010).
Hand carved by Eric Schweig, these unique masks are based on the designs of Inuit masks and Bali Adoption masks. Approximately 14″ tall and 8″ wide without the hoop and feathers. Adorned with turkey feathers and horsehair they are about 3 feet across and two and a half feet high.
Schweig explained how he and his clients conceptualize a mask.
”It’s art. You can do anything with it. It doesn’t matter. … It’s open to interpretation. It’s alchemy. You make something out of nothing. It just depends on what I want to do, or what I feel like doing, or what a client feels like doing, or your state of mind. Whether you’re happy, sad or angry; whether the client’s happy, sad or angry. It just depends on what he or she wants, or what you want. You can do anything. It’s wide open. It’s freestyle and it’s wide open. So, there’s no one way to design something. Absolutely no [limitations].”
The masks can take up to a few months to complete, depending on the level of intricacy. He said that while the colors used can symbolize different things, they’re often chosen because they hold special meaning to the client.
”It’s usually open to interpretation. If somebody wants something done, I’ll usually get a color swatch from them and then I’ll go to an art store and I’ll match it, and that’ll be it.”
His signature style includes a certain distinction.
”To me, the only thing that sort of sticks out that I like is contrast. That’s why I always put a white base coat on everything. So anything I put on top of that is going to pop out.”
Indian Country Today, 2008
“I’m an artist first and foremost. I like sitting at home and carving masks. That’s when lightning balls come out of my fingertips. I can make something out of nothing without anybody’s help, without someone telling me what to do or how to do it. “
The brightly coloured masks, adorned with hair and feathers, are inspired by his Inuit roots. They’re also deeply personal. One mask in his “Adoption” series is called “Inuit Man Screaming.”
“I have a weird opinion about art,” Schweig says, scooting forward on the couch. His glasses reflect the light from the window, hiding the expression in his eyes. “I don’t think a lot of indigenous people will like it. But it’s what I think regardless.”
“We’re on the tail end of 500 years of oppression,” he says. “Why are we still making pictures and bronze sculptures of Lakota guys standing there with a spear or three women looking at the sun? I’m not saying that the artists are bad. They’re very good at what they do. But it seems to me that we’re all doing it because it sells, not because it represents how we really feel. “
“The overculture — as I like to call them — does not want to embrace its guilt. And when you do something — when you make artwork from the inside to express yourself and how you really feel it makes them uncomfortable. Then they won’t buy it, and you don’t get to put food on the table. And I also understand that part of it … but if there was a modicum of solidarity … there’d be nothing they could do about it. It would be, either buy what we make or don’t buy anything at all. Go get some goofy painting from Wal-Mart or something. ” “So needless to say, I don’t get business all the time.”
Eric Schweig’s interview for the Toronto Star, 2003
Eric Schweig talks carving on Mohican Press (1999)