Art,  Masks,  Paper Mache

Masks (layered paper mache)

Paper mache can be made as a modeling paste, or by layering sheets of absorbent paper with diluted glue. While living in Venice I developed an interest for paper mache masks, which are made by the Venetian “Mascarero” (mask maker) with the layered technique.

If you’re interested in a paper mache workshop, please contact me.

I had the chance to interview a few Mascareri and learn the process, and experiment with my own masks. I created a snake, a mutton with hat and an ibex for a masquerade ball. See below some pictures, which are not the best quality but you can get an idea.

Snake

The snake mask was commissioned with specific colours to match the dress. The spires wrap around the head, kind of like a helmet.

Mutton and Ibex

Mutton and ibex share the same mould for the centre piece of the mask. The mutton had two more molds for the back of the ears, and a few more molds for the horns, which were to be attached to the hat. The Ibex had 4 more molds for the long horns. I’ve attached the pieces and filled the horns with polyurethane foam and the masks were really lightweight. For the decorations I got inspired by Japanese demons.

PERSONA

Persona is a foldable mask inspired by the skull’s bones. The pieces are secured together with white lace glued in the back and some metal rings at the junctions. Photos taken in Kobarid, Slovenia.

Not-so-known history of Venetian masks

Venetian masks are mainly bought as souvenirs or used during the annual Carnival, a 3 weeks festival that fills the lanes, bridges and squares with a masked crowd from all over the world. Many of these visitors don’t know it, but today’s Carnival doesn’t have much in common with the original Venetian Carnival. Even the masks are pretty different from how they used to be.

The original Carnival ended with the fall of the Republic of Venice more than two centuries ago. It was revived only in the 80s by a group of students, then taken on board by the municipality which saw the huge economic potential. Most masks and costumes now are made up by local artists, or taken from the Commedia dell’arte, an early form of professional theatre in Italy. It’s also common to see the plague’s doctor mask, which traditionally was not a Carnival mask, but it’s a mask and it looks interesting so someone started using it. I could go on about the original Carnival because it was part of my dissertation, but let’s focus on todays’ tradition.

This new version of the Venetian Carnival was immediately a success and each year more and more people wanted to participate. People started studying materials and shapes for masks, using cheap stuff like paper, fabric, glue and plaster. By copying each other’s ideas and experimenting over the years, the Mascareri improved the paper mache recipe and created the Venetian technique as we know it today.

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