I visited Mawulidi Diodone Majaliwa in his walk-up apartment in downtown Albany.
He told me he is working on 10 carving projects now, including five birds and an astonishing African Protection Mask – this one is nearly finished, he has some more carving to do, and then some vivid painting.
I didn't know about these masks, Mawuldi said they are used for protection in Africa, they are everywhere in Southern Africa, especially in countries ravaged by war, genocide or disease. He says he can vouch for their power, he survived a civil war and 20 years in a U.N. refugee camp.
The masks are believed to protect whoever has them in the homes, or up in nearby trees.
They ward off thieves, demons, militias, enemy soldiers, robbers, and all kinds of bad luck and evil people.
He will be finished with the mask – it will be brightly painted – and more birds and carvings in about two weeks. it is sometimes hard for Mawulidi to find time to work on his carvings, he has no car, and has a long bus ride to and from his work as a bread maker in a bakery in Albany.
And he has four children, two of them very young, and still at home. His days are very long and exhausting. I had a long talk with Mawulidi, I asked him what his goals and plans are. He says he would love to be a carver full-time, but he didn't know if that was possible.
He is a quiet and shy and determined man, he is smiling more when we are together. I think he thought I was a spirit from some other world. I suppose I am.
I said Maria and I believed he had the talent for real success, but we had to move slowly and patiently, and see how much he can produce, how much he can charge for his work and how many people want to pay for it. So far, so good.
This will all take several months, and no one can predict what will happen. I told him I would support him in every way I could for as long as he wished.
I said Maria and I were excited about selling his work for the time being, I gave him a check for more than $400 dollars and Francis Regabo a check for $137 as a donation for RiSSE, the immigrant and refugee support center in Albany. This is his first art sale in America, may it be the first of many.
Mawulidi asked me again how much money I was receiving for this work, and I said none, I didn't want payment. He said that was wonderful but it bothered him and he wanted me to make some money from his carvings if I was selling them.
I said I was a writer, my income comes from my books and that is how I wish to make my living. I said my wife would want to charge a commission if she took on the sales of his work for the long haul. But we were far from that.
I told him about the Army Of Good and the growing waiting list for his work – Maria and I think the mask will draw great interest, we are trying to figure out what to charge for it.
Mawulidi said he was very happy and very grateful. He never expected to carve again in this life. If would be wonderful if Mawulidi could some day make a living off of his carvings, but the odds are very long, and I won't make any false promises to him. We would love to support his work.
I told Mawulidi about Etsy and Facebook and other sites where artists sell their work. Maria is a real champion of Mawulidi, she just loves his carvings.
She can be a powerful support for an artist she loves, I've seen it over and over again.
The Army of Good is pretty potent as well, many artists have started and succeeded with much less.
We shall see.
It really depends on him, on how many carvings he makes, how special they are, how strong a market there is from them. Judging by the reaction last week, there is real promise.
But let's see what happens. I told him if the Gods want it to happen, perhaps it will, and he smiled and nodded at that. We spoke through and interpreter, he speaks almost no English. Maria says she wants to meet with him when I make my next trip to Albany.
So my best guess, subject to change, is that Mawulidi's Protection Mask – I can't wait to see the final result – will go on sale just after December 22, or whenever it is finished. Maria has a waiting list for Mawulidi's work. If you wish to be on the list, you can e-mail her at email@example.com.
It is awesome to see a gifted artist reborn. Come to think of it, I could use some protection these days.