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Beauty in Bones: A Q&A With Coye Conner, Jr.

Oct 01, 2015 03:45PM ● Published by Audrey Sellers

Gallery: Mystic Masks [5 Images] Click any image to expand.

While many of us wouldn’t see anything particularly noteworthy about dried deer pelvic bones, Southlake resident Coye Conner, Jr. sees something special. The nationally recognized attorney, mediator and arbitrator transforms the bones he finds at his Central Texas ranch into beautiful, one-of-a-kind Indian masks. He calls them “Mystic Masks.” Read on for our Q&A with Conner to learn about his inspiration, how he makes the masks, and what’s next for him.  

Southlake Style: Have you always had an artistic side?

Conner: I probably have always had an artistic side. I did not recognize it at the time, but I decorated and did interior design on my own homes. Guests would admire what I had done in my home and asked if I could help them with their own homes. So, I wound up doing six of my friends’ homes and three offices. It seemed that colors and styles just naturally came to me. That worked together to blend the project together.                                       

SS: What inspired you to start turning deer bones into masks?

Conner: My inspiration for turning deer pelvic bones into masks originates from my curiosity and ability to envision creative uses for items – far different than their intended purpose. For example, I used a 1949 Ford truck hood as my vent-a-hood in the kitchen of my man cave at my Hill Country ranch. I was walking at my ranch a couple of years ago looking for shed deer antlers, and came upon a deer that had been dead for years. All that was left was the skeleton, bleached white from the weather and time. I looked at the backbone and saw the pelvic bone intact. I picked it up and realized how much it resembled a mask of some sort. I wondered what I could do with it. I worked on it with the limited supply of paint and items I had at that time.

SS: It’s such a unique art – what do you enjoy most about it?

Conner: The thing I enjoy most about it is the sanity break that it allows me to take from my normal hectic business of mediating and arbitrating lawsuits. Recently, my alma mater, Baylor, was playing basketball in the final 64. It was the first game of the tournament for them, starting at 10:30 on a Thursday morning. My wife and I were at the ranch, had breakfast, and I told her that I was going to the shop for an hour or so to work on masks, but that I would be back in a couple of hours to watch the game. My foreman came up after a time and said: “Thought you were going to watch the Bears play.” It was 4:30 in the afternoon! I had been at the shop working on a mask for eight hours and never realized it.                    

SS: How do you prepare the bones before working with them?

Conner: I put four gallons of bleach in a plastic bucket, put four to five of the bones in the solution, stir for a few minutes, then let it set for a couple of hours. I pour off the bleach and then rinse with well water, and let the water stand in the bucket with the bones overnight. The bones then are clean and ready to begin the process of becoming a mask.

SS: Where do you find your inspiration for each mask?

Conner: My inspiration for each mask is uniquely different. Some are created from a thought that I had. Once, I couldn’t sleep after I woke up at 3 a.m. because I had an idea for a new mask. I got out of bed and went to the shop and worked on the idea until breakfast. 

One mask I visualized Christ on the cross, and did a mask from that vision. I went around my ranch until I found some rusty barbwire and made the Crown of Thorns from the barbwire. One side of the mask is painted gold, representing the streets of gold in heaven. The other side is multi-colored, representing all the nations of the world. I dripped some red acrylic paint down on the mask from the crown of thorns, representing the blood of Christ. I placed a small serpent on the mask on the lowest part of the face of the mask, representing Satan leaving. I created a unique eye for the mask, representing the power of Christ to see everything, and finished it with an angel necklace. So the inspiration for each may come from a thought, a conviction, suggestion from a friend, or the like.             

SS: How do you decide on a name for each mask?

Conner: The name for each mask is acquired from the impression that I get after the mask is completed. As I look at it, a thought will come to mind of what the mask reminds me of or the sense I get from it.                                      

SS: How many masks have you created since you first began in 2012?

Conner: I have completed over 50 masks since the first one. Some of the masks I create I will combine into one work of art. One that I completed actually has four pelvic bones in it. A larger one in the middle that represents the “mother,” two smaller ones on the side and then another one mounted on a stiff wire above her, representing another child that she is dreaming of for the future.

I make other “faces” from other parts of the deer, using antlers, shoulder blade bones, spinal bones and even turtle shells, that I find on the ranch.                         

SS: Your book, Mystic Masks, mentions that you’ve always been drawn to the “brave, fighting spirit of the Native American Indian.” Tell us about this. 

Conner: The brave, fighting spirit of the Native American Indian has always been an inspiration to me. They seem to have been able to do more with less. They determined when the American West opened up. For instance, Comanche boys became adept bareback riders by age six. Full Indian braves were considered the best horsemen who ever rode. They were masterful at war that they stopped the northern drive of colonial Spain from Mexico and halted the French expansion westward from Louisiana. I admire them for their tenacity, endurance, creativity and dedication to family.          

SS: The Shatzie Exotic Game Ranch is where you create your masks. How often do you and your wife, Marti, spend time there?

Conner: Marti and I attempt to spend at least a week per month at Shatzie Ranch. Since we put in a swimming pool at the ranch, it has really created an additional four months during the year that we can enjoy the ranch life.                                                                   

SS: You’ve donated your masks to various charity auctions. What kind of funds have your masks raised?

Conner: I am not sure of the total dollars that the masks have raised for children’s charities, however I know the last one I donated sold for $1,900. I am told that two different ladies thought they had the winning bid, so one of the ladies paid an additional $1,900 to the charity if I would make another one for her.  And I did.                                     

SS: Would you like to sell your masks one day?

Conner: I am in a transition period regarding the masks. My friends have encouraged me to begin to market them for sale, but I am not sure how to go about it. I would like for more folks to enjoy them and am probably going to go forward with some sort of marketing plan.        

SS: Where do you display your masks once you have created them?

Conner: My masks are on display in our home in Southlake and on the walls of bedrooms of our main two-story house at Shatzie Ranch. My shop at the barn, where I create the masks, has more inventory of beaded and other types of costume jewelry than most local stores. I order all my beaded earrings and necklaces for the masks from Native American Indian websites. They are more colorful and detailed than one can find in most stores.

SS: Anything else you’d like to say?

Conner: I have searched the web several times and cannot find another person in the world, at least on the web, who is doing the type of art that I am with the deer pelvic bones.

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