A Perfect Face
By Candace Kubinec
Jude had been a sculptor for as long as he could remember. It was all he’d ever wanted to be. He had devoted most of his life to forming beautiful shapes from clay. Now it felt like his dreams were about to be dashed by his own hubris.
It started when he was three and his grandmother surprised him with a package of Kids Klay for his birthday. His first attempt at a making a ball was met with clapping and hugs from his mother so he continued to create. He went from forming balls, to bears. By the time he was five he had graduated to dinosaurs.
Six years of summer art camp led to acceptance into to the prestigious Arts High School in New York. As he began winning competitions his superstitious quirks increased – he began wearing the same unwashed shirt when he was sculpting, listening to the same Beatles CD non-stop, and eating a peanut butter and banana sandwich before he started a project.
After graduation, Jude wandered around the country living in various artists’ colonies and teaching kids’ art classes to make some money. His teachers and parents insisted he should go on to college. He had even been offered a scholarship to School of the Art Institute of Chicago. His goal was to become famous, a sought-after sculptor and Jude thought four more years of school would just delay this fame.
It was in a small town in New Mexico that he stumbled onto a possible source of the recognition his sought, doll sculpting. His mentor at the Yucca Artist’s Colony, Helen Irene, brought this to his attention.
“Jude.” She spoke quietly so the other artists sharing the studio wouldn’t overhear. “ I ‘ve been hearing about a contest for doll sculptors and immediately thought of you. Your sculptures of the human form are so realistic, I’m sure you would be accepted into this juried show. There is a rather mysterious old woman who lives in the desert, a few miles from here. She could show you some unique techniques. Here name is Zelina.”
In his imagination, Jude began seeing visions of crowds of people admiring his astounding first place winning doll. If he could win that contest, he would have it made in the world of doll sculpting – maybe even open his own studio and produce his own line of collectible dolls. He worked for two weeks on his entry, pinching clay, smoothing rough spots, until he felt sure he had created the perfect doll. He was devastated when his doll was not even accepted into the show.
He tried. Every night Jude sat in the workshop of the artists’ colony sculpting, trying to make the perfect doll face. For five years, he had been entering his best effort in the International Doll Sculpting Challenge. Last year he came in second, for the second time. It was always the face that kept him from winning even when his work was shown, lips too thin, nose too broad, eyes too close together or far apart.
Desperation drove Jude the old woman’s cabin on the outskirts of town. He knocked loudly on the rough wooden door. Purple paint flecks dropped to the ground at his feet. His breath came quickly when a short, wizened old woman flung open the door.
“Are you Zelina?” he asked hesitantly.
“Ahh, I’ve been waiting for you, Jude. Come in, come in.”
He stepped into a small room with beautiful sculptures covering every flat surface.
Jude sat across a scarf draped table from the wrinkled woman wrapped in a fringed shawl.
“I want the gift, the power, the skill, to be able to sculpt the perfect face.”
The old woman looked at Jude with deep green eyes that seemed to see straight into his soul and spoke some words that Jude did not understand. Then she smiled and touched his forehead. She handed him a blue paisley roll of material. As he slowly unrolled it he saw it was a set of antique sculpting tools.
“You may go now”, she whispered. “But you must use these tools on all your creations.”
Jude took the long way home, slowly strolling back to his rented room, the strange words spoken by the woman echoing in his head.
The next morning, he started working on a new doll. His hands were sure and swift. Lips, eyes, nose forming as if by magic. His hands seemingly guided by an unseen force. It was a perfect face. Last of all, he carved the name, Zelina, on the back of the dolls neck in honor of the old woman and her gift to him.
The doll won the competition and launched Jude into prominence as a premier doll sculptor. He had finally made it.
Three years passed and Jude’s perfect dolls were more popular than ever. His youthful dreams were becoming a reality. He was rich, famous, sought after in the doll world. He even had a gallery showing of his work.
He decided to start a new line of dolls that he would name Helena, after his former mentor. He ordered a custom-made set of tools to use for this new doll, the old woman’s tools abandoned in a corner of his studio. He worked feverishly to complete this new doll before the International competition. Night after night he worked, barely stopping to eat or sleep. Something was very wrong. No matter how many times he started over the dolls turned out the same. Now, with only one week left until the competition deadline, the shelves in his workshop were filled with dolls – each one with the wrinkled face of the old woman.