Tag Archives: papier-mache

Papier Mache Chair

A Papier Mache Chair from 1854

The following comes from “The Illustrated Magazine of Art”, Volume 4, Number 24, page 344, published in 1854. I thought the process they described was interesting. First, it is the first time I’ve heard of using metal molds for papier maché; second, they let each layer dry fully before applying the next (I learned to lay up each layer while the previous is still damp).

The polished French claim the honour of being the original inventors of the papier maché. In Paris the manufacture of the article is carried on very extensively; but far beyond the articles produced there—articles both of utility and ornament—stand those of the Birmingham manufacturers.

The old method of manufacturing papier maché is as follows:

—The paper for use is gray in colour, but similar in texture to ordinary blotting paper. Prior to using it, the paper is well saturated with flour and glue mixed with water, in about equal proportions, and is then laid on the mould of the article intended to be produced. These moulds are of iron, brass, or copper. The mould, coated with the first layer of paper, is then dried for twelve hours. A careful smoothing by a file follows, after which another deposit of paper is made. The processes of drying and smoothing are successively repeated with each additional layer of paper, until the article assumes the required strength and thickness. When the newly-formed article is taken from the mould, the several parts are planed, filed, and trimmed, so as to be quite correct and level. The process of stoving then follows; after which the varnish is laid on, and brought to a smooth, hard, brilliant surface. The article is then coated with several layers of shell-lac varnish, coloured, which, after being hardened, are scraped quite level. The different varnishings and smoothings are carried on for a period varying from twelve to eighteen days, according to the purpose for which the article is required. The exquisite surface is produced by manual polishing with rotten stone and oil; but the finish is obtained by the process of handling alone.

Various alterations and improvements have been made from time to time in the manufacture of papier maché; and sometimes the paper is reduced to pulp, cast to the form required, and then rendered compact and solid.

The specimen which we present is of a chair in papier maché; the grace and elegance of the design deserve especial attention.

Papier Mache Chair
Papier Mache Chair

Papier Mache Chair. The Illustrated Magazine of Art, Vol. 4, No. 24 (1854), p. 344

Cow head

Milky the Cow

I recently finished some work on a production of Into the Woods at Elon University. The students hired me to build the animals (some may call them puppets). Milky the Cow is one of the main animals, appearing in many of the scenes. I began by sculpting a cow head in white foam.

Sculpted foam head
Sculpted foam head

I gave the head a coating of papier-mâché. The design of the show used a lot of found object and natural material arranged to suggest a forest, rather than attempting a realistic portrayal of one. So the construction of the head proceeded in a manner to highlight the fact that it was a handmade object, rather than attempting to completely mimic an actual cow’s head.

Applying papier-mache
Applying papier-mache

The body was a separate piece; it was just the torso, tail and udder, without any legs. They were basing their design off of the Regent’s Park production (which transferred to the Public Theater this past summer, though I left just before it came).

I started with a structure made of a cardboard tube “spine” and some bent PVC pipe to define the shape. I than began wrapping vines around to create the outer surface. Everything was wired in place, but I also added some twine to make it appear as though it was lashed together.

Body structure
Body structure

Next for the head were some ears. I patterned and sewed them out of muslin, with a piece of styrene inside to give it some stiffness. Once the ears were on the head, I heated them with a hot air gun so I could curl and shape them. When cool, the styrene retained that shape.

Ears
Ears

The head got a coat of grey primer, followed by a dry brush of off-white over top. I glued a dowel coming out of the back of the head so the handler could hold onto it and manipulate it around.

Cow head
Cow head

The udder was a few pieces of red fabric which I patterned, sewed, and stuffed with polyester batting. I lined the inside of the body with some screen material so the actors could throw objects inside as Milky “ate” them, and they would be easy to retrieve after the show. I added some raffia to beef out the body since the vines did not give enough coverage on their own.

Milky White
Milky White

So there you have it; one Milky the Cow!

Models and Mache, 1904

The following is a continuation of a newspaper article about the property shop of E. L. Morse on Twenty-ninth Street in New York City. The article first appeared in The New York Times on May 8, 1904, and Mr. Morse’s property shop is long gone. I have previously posted the introduction, a bit on Morse’s career, a story of a fake fish he built and a run down of all the skills a prop maker must possess.

On the table of the shop is a country kitchen, not over a foot wide and a foot high. Yet in it is every piece of rude furniture which was to be put in the large kitchen on the stage. Not only in general appearance is the model perfect, but in all the smallest details. The kitchen table even has a top that folds back—it is hardly 2 inches long—just like tables which Mr. Morse says are found in obscure farmhouses in New England. The chairs, mantelpieces, window frames—all are exact. The whole thing was whittled out with a knife by the master of the shop himself.

“Why, that would make a wonderful toy for some child,” suggests the visitor.

“Yes, and I’m going to give it to one,” Mr. Morse replies. “I never thought about any one’s wanting such a thing until some one suggested it the other day. I guess I’ll not throw away any more.”

All around the room, on boxes and chairs, sit vases to be used in a musical comedy. They are modeled after some rare foreign pottery. The look of them is so frail that you forget they are not breakable, and tread gingerly in and out among the confusion of obstacles. This amuses the master of the shop.

“Oh, you can’t hurt these things,” he says.

To prove it he playfully cuffs one of the vases off the box and across the room. It falls and bounces up and down like a rubber ball. There is not even a dent, for it’s only papier maché, and you could play football with it half an hour without hurting it.

This article first appeared in the New York Times, May 8, 1904.

Edwin Booth’s Prop Maker, 1904

The following is a continuation of a newspaper article about the property shop of E. L. Morse on Twenty-ninth Street in New York City. The article first appeared in The New York Times on May 8, 1904, and Mr. Morse’s property shop is long gone. I have previously posted the introduction and another portion of this article as well.

With all its reminders of bygone days and forgotten favorites, perhaps the quaintest and most interesting feature of the cob-webbed room is its master. Actors grow into fame and fade away into oblivion, while a property master holds his position and reputation secure. Mr. Morse is a survivor of the days that chroniclers are wont to call “the good old times.” He was property master of Edwin Booth’s Theatre, on the corner of Sixth Avenue and Twenty-third Street, and was the right-hand man of that famous actor—in a mechanical way…

Though his hair is turned gray, this designer, engraver, and maker of properties is as active as he was before any of the present theatrical celebrities were known. He knows, perhaps, more about the physical characteristics of New York’s playhouses than any other man living. In many of them he has worked, and every stage carpenter or worker of any importance is among his acquaintances.

For five years, since he quit the theatres and set up an establishment for the manufacture of properties, he has made all the “props” for Richard Mansfield. A list of the plays he has furnished would included practically all the big successes in recent years.

He and several of his assistants are now hard at work making gondolas, vases, and all sorts of fanciful animals’ heads for a musical comedy that is to be put on before long. It is a mystery how they manage to do anything in such a crowded place. There is hardly room to walk about, so littered is the floor with all kinds of material—a stranger calls it “rubbish.” Overhead are suspended from the ceiling vases, cloth elephants, trumpets, monstrous reptiles, and all conceivable kinds of stage ornaments—nearly everything made of papier maché.

This article first appeared in the New York Times, May 8, 1904.