Did you make handprint casts in elementary school, or perhaps leaf casts? Maybe you have a handprint from a grandchild.
Photo from Body Casting Sydney.
Photo from Body Casting Sydney.Back in my day, ashtrays were the most popular form. Press your hand in the middle of the modeling clay circle, lift the edges upward to form a bowl, let it dry, and voilà a memory. Maybe yours was for a coaster or Christmas tree ornament.
Molding body parts made me wonder what was happening today in the world of nostalgic body casting.
I visited The Edinburgh Casting Studio and watched their Family Hand Casting video — https://www.facebook.com/edinburghcasting/videos/1604721079743622/
|Courtesy of the Edinburgh Casting Studio|
When I saw this one from http://www.incredibleart.org/lessons/middle/Lotte-bodyart.htm (scroll to middle of web page) I envisioned Amanda resting after a day of teaching.
|Photo from Body Casting Sydney|
It was common in 10th century European countries to create death masks of famous people for display at funerals. Often the masks served as a model for after-death portraits. In the 18th & 19th centuries, they were used to permanently record facial features of unknown corpses. Hands were cast in case the face wasn't recognizable.
Phrenologists used life and death masks in their studies. The study of Phrenology, which focuses on personality and character, is a pseudomedicine and pseudoscientific method focused on human skull measurements. Phrenology was developed by Franz Joseph Gall in 1796 and gained popularity between 1810 and 1840. The Edinburgh Phrenological Society was formed in 1820 and became the principal British center for this study.
|1883 Phrenology Chart|
Rather than interred with the deceased, as was done prior to the Middle Ages, they were used in the funeral services and ceremonies then given to family or bequeathed to museums, libraries, and universities.
Collecting life and death masks of famous people became a prestigious undertaking. I started to type "hobby," but that sounds frivolous and these folks were serious collectors.
In Harper's New Monthly Magazine, Vol. LXXXV, July to October 1892, Laurence Hutton wrote three lengthy articles on his collection of death-masks. He collected notables like Dante, William Shakespeare, Mendelssohn, Sir Isaac Newton, and many others.
I was fascinated by what Hutton said about Ludwig van Beethoven. "His head is described by those who knew him in life as having been uncommonly large. His forehead was high and expanded. His eyes, when he laughed, seemed to sink into his head, although they were distended to an unusual degree when one of his musical ideas took possession of his mind." (Vol. LXXXV, No. DVIII, page 629)
Although I started this research with death masks, I was glad to find life masks. Below is Beethoven's life mask made in 1812 by Franz Klein and now resides at Princeton University. Noel Morris in his article Beethoven's smile—yes, he had one (http://blogs.wfmt.com/offmic/2013/12/16/beethovens-smile/) shares, "In this process, the artist covers the subject's face in oil, and inserts straws in the nostrils. Then the artist coats the subject's face in plaster and lets it dry. The story goes that Beethoven panicked and ripped the cast off of his face; though he later calmed down and permitted the second application."
|Ludwig van Beethoven Life Mask—Courtesy Princeton University|
|Ludwig van Beethoven — bust by Hugo Hagen|
|Abraham Lincoln Life Mask by Volk 1860—Courtesy of Smithsonian Institute|
|Abraham Lincoln Life Mask by Clark Mills 1865—Courtesy of Smithsonian Institute|
I had the opportunity at the University of Texas-Arlington to interpret for a talented artist who was deaf. One of her classes was sculpting. Life masks was the first project. After seeing the process, which hadn't changed any since before 1812, I declined the invitation. Now, I kinda — almost nearly — but not quite, wish I had taken the plunge. I think it was the straws up the nostrils that sealed the deal.
Have you had any life mask, hand casts, or body casting experiences?
Would you go under the straws?
Lin and her husband, Jerry, live on a ranch in Chimney Rock, Colorado. She writes historical fiction for adults and children. Her novella The Lye Water Bride is included in the California Gold Rush Romance Collection (Barbour Publishing, August 2016).