Helping to Put a Face on Nature

Prof. Jonathan Schmidt has assembled an art show of masks and photographs that invites visitors to think about nature

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Jonathan Schmidt mask photography

Helping to put a face on nature is part of the goal of an extracurricular photography project that has turned into a first-ever public art show for Prof. Jonathan Schmidt, associate dean (academic) with the Ontario Agricultural College.

He and his wife, Annerose, have assembled a show of papier mâché masks and accompanying photographs in their hometown of Elora, Ont.

“The Nature of Masks” runs at the Elora Café Creperie until April 5.

Annerose created 14 masks representing elements and mythological beings, including the sun, moon, spring, wind and fire. About the size of large serving platters, they’re made of papier mâché and intended for exhibit rather than performance.

The masks extend her work of creating hand puppets for Puppets Elora, a group that performs local shows. She has helped run the group for almost 20 years.

Initially she asked Jonathan to photograph the masks as a record of her installation. His images were so compelling the couple decided to include 20 photos along with the masks in the art show.

Rather than photograph indoors, he chose to capture the masks outside over about eight months. That added a new dimension to his wife’s creations.

“It was like a gift to see that my connection to nature was so strong and close,” says Annerose. “I’m happy that my observation coincides with what’s going on outside.”

In one image, a mask looks like Zeus or maybe Einstein. “The wind caught the paper hair and blew it sideways. It’s a stunning picture,” says Annerose.

Jonathan says the natural surroundings animate the masks — or perhaps the other way around. One mask gives a tree an otherworldly visage.

He says the masks are “playful and serious at the same time. They invite you to think about nature. They personalize nature because they put a face on it, but it’s not a human face.”

At U of G, Schmidt teaches environmental biology, from spider ecology to the workings of insecticides on farm ecosystems.

He says the masks also hint at nature’s mysteries. He drew inspiration from the ending of The Immense Journey by one of his favourite nature writers, Loren Eiseley. The final line quotes author Thomas Hardy in referring to “but one mask of many worn by the Great Face behind.”

Annerose says a visitor to the show told her: “I hadn’t realized how I had been drawn away from connecting with nature. This really brought it back for me.”