Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time. Thomas Merton

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

And Now for Something Completely Different

Back to papier mâché. Some of my pieces from the past can be seen on the blog sidebar by scrolling down to the "Papier Mache" section.

I did a good bit of work with papier mâché in the late '90's through about 2002. One project involved making faux hams to hang in the smokehouse at the living history museum where I worked. The original plan was to order four plastic/resin hams from a company that specializes in faux food for museums and other exhibit purposes at a cost of about $200 each. During a staff meeting, one of the other interpreters, having seen the masks I'd made, volunteered my papier mâché skills in order to save the museum some money. I had never tried making faux food before, but it sounded like a challenge in which I could stretch my skills a bit and learn more about crafting with paper. The project was successful, it saved the museum $800, and I received my regular hourly wages for the work. Had I known then what I learned during the process, it would have not saved the museum much money and I promised myself that I would ask for appropriate compensation for any faux food I made for the museum after that. After learning to spin in 2002, I didn't devote too much time to papier mâché. I dug out my old stash a few weeks ago and have numerous unfinished pieces that I'm now working on.

A work in progress--bowl made with layers of tissue paper. I'm thinking that after adding a few more layers, I might just varnish the tissue paper rather than painting over it. I like the translucent property of the tissue paper and how the various colors show through the layers.

Inside view. The newspaper visible on the outside and the blue vertical strip on the inside are from gluing the sides back together after removing the bowl from the mold (a glass bowl) over which it was formed. Forming a vessel this way requires it to be removed from the mold by cutting through the layers of paper and pulling it off the mold, then fitting it back together by pasting strips of paper over the cut edges. Subsequent layers of tissue paper will eventually hide the newspaper.

Here are some new photos of the two masks that the museum staff member had seen and which prompted his suggestion that I make the fake hams for the smokehouse. My inspiration for these masks was tribal art. They are not copied from any particular tribe or ethnic group. I just started working and let the ideas come as I worked. They evolved as much from what I had to work with as any preliminary ideas I had. I had planned an entire series of pieces based on tribal art, but after making the hams and learning to spin, papier mâché work got put on the back burner.

This is "Guinea Man." I remember thinking that I'd make a mask and decorate it with guinea feathers. I didn't do any preliminary sketches, but just let the ideas flow. It worked out well, but is not necessarily the best design approach. This was the first mask I made using papier mâché. I was hoping to get a look that resembled carved wood. I was rather conservative in my approach to reproducing the carved look and might try something else if I were to do more of these.

Guinea Man was formed over a balloon using newspaper strips and wallpaper paste. The raised and sculpted areas were made using a compound called "Paperclay" instead of paper pulp because it has a finer texture and is a little easier to shape.

Next was "Raffia Man." I couldn't think of anything else to call him. I used the same process and materials as in Guinea Man, but added twine to form the scarification patterns on his cheeks and chin. The size is not easy to determine in the photos, but both masks are large enough to be worn, although I use them as decorative pieces and they hang on the wall in my youngest son's room. Raffia Man is a good bit larger than Guinea Man. You can get a better idea of the size difference in the sidebar photos.

I enjoy working with papier mâché. It allows me to create sculptural and ceramic work without the expense of tools and materials necessary to work with traditional materials for those arts. It is inexpensive and a great way to recycle.


  1. I love the colours in the bowl, so beautiful! The masks are excellent, they've got such character!

  2. That is awesome work. I love it. I really like the colors of the bowl too. Man my fellow bloggers are truly creative.

  3. The masks are cool, but I'm not sure I'd want them looking at me! The bowl, on the other hand, would be very nice to live with. And its actually kind of interesting to see the newsprint.

  4. What art in paper mache that you make! The bowl is lovely with the tissue paper and I'd certainly varnish it. So pretty...all are works of art.

  5. Raffia Man gave me a good laugh, really nice work on those masks and the vessel has wonderful bright colors, like stained-glass effect. Have fun with that project!
    Smile today. :)

  6. The bowl is so beautiful! (But the masks are so creepy!)

  7. I like your bowl too. I've done a little paper mache and it is fun!

  8. wow!! the bowl is beautiful!! and i LOVE the masks!!

    i've never really worked much with paper mache...looks like fun! you're so creative!!!