Tag Archives: papier-mache

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.

Friday Link-o-Rama

Tool collector or serious hobbyist? Either way, Jacques Jodoin’s incredible basement woodworking shop has to be seen to be believed. There’s three pages of photos of his shop with every tool imaginable; it almost looks like a store. I love all the tiny bins.

This Japanese “museum” of fantastic specimens (actually gaffs of imaginary creatures) shows what you can accomplish with papier-mâché. The museum itself is in Japanese, but the link is to a page which attempts to guide you through it in English (h/t to Propnomicon for pointing me to the site).

La Bricoleuse has been doing some interesting documentation of the armor that was rented for PlayMaker Rep’s upcoming repertory productions of Henry IV and Henry V (the same shows I just worked on). This post, for example, looks at photos of various pieces and annotates the choices made in their construction, describing what she likes (and what she doesn’t).

Die Hausbücher der Nürnberger Zwölfbrüderstiftungen has a collection of over 1300 color illustrations detailing many of the manufacturing processes and crafts from 1388 to the 19th century. The pages are in German, so you may want to run it through a translator.

Young People Today Wouldn’t Recognize New York Of The 1980s. These color photographs of New York City from the 1980s will help you the next time you are working on a period version of Fame.

This is an unfortunately brief article about working backstage in China, including a quote from a prop master. It sounds like they have to go through the same kinds of things we do over here though.

The Making of the Props for The Making of a King

I recently finished my first major gig down here in North Carolina. I was building props for the productions of Henry IV and Henry V at PlayMakers Repertory Company in Chapel Hill. It was a lot of fun, and also an interesting change of pace to return to a job where I am building all day without any managerial duties.

base of a chaise lounge
base of a chaise lounge

The base for this chaise lounge was fairly straightforward. I began by building a nice sturdy frame out of oak. The design evolved later to a piece which was completely covered in moulding. The oak ended up being completely obscured by all the moulding. Ah, well.

CNC routed headboard design
CNC routed headboard design

The king’s headboard had a fairly intricate cut-out design, so the props shop sent a piece of 3/4″ plywood to the scene shop to be CNC routed.

Completed headboard
Completed headboard

When I got the CNC’d piece back, I cleaned it up and attached some other layers, moulding, posts and finials to make the full headboard.

Trestle table base
Trestle table base

Above is a nice trestle table base I built for the tavern scene. The feet and the pieces on top of the legs are made of solid wood; I had to laminate a few pieces together to get those thicknesses. The legs themselves are actually boxed out, with a two-by-four hidden inside for strength. The wedged tenons on the sides of the legs are just fake pieces glued on the outside.

Finished table
Finished table

The table top had already been built for the rehearsal piece, so I just had to attach it. The scene shop also added some metal diagonal braces, which were needed to keep the table from collapsing under horizontal forces.

Papier-mache tub
Papier-mache tub

Finally, the props shop was building a hammered copper bath tub out of some good old-fashioned papier-mâché. I jumped on this project in the middle, adding a few layers to what was already started and attaching the large Ethafoam rod along the top. The initial layers were done with an ordinary flour and water paste. The next few layers were done with strips of paper and a product called “Aqua Form” to make it harder and more water-proof. Aqua Form markets itself as a nontoxic water-based polymer which replaces resins for use in laminates; it worked great with the paper, but it also claims it can be used in lieu of resin for fiberglass. I certainly look forward to learning more about it.

Shams in the Theatre, 1880

The following article comes from The Daily Dispatch, Richmond, VA, December 2, 1880. I added a few paragraph breaks to make it a little easier on the eyes.

Shams in the Theatre

The Ingenious Work of the Property Man–Remarkable Effects Produced with Cheap and Common Materials.

(New York Tribune.)

Theatrical properties, so called, include all things placed upon the stage except what are painted as part of a scene by the scene-painter. Urns, vases, flowers, pictures, pianos, carpets, rugs, furniture, and all ornaments are “properties.” Besides these, all articles used by the actors in the performance of the play, such as canes, cigars, pistols, clubs, knives, pocketbooks, money, and other things of similar nature are properties. The property-man of a theatre has a responsible and arduous-position. Upon him depend many of the important points in a play. The check for $30,000 that saves the impecunious artist from an untimely grave; the secret drawer and hidden will, which, when revealed, restore the wandering heir to his rightful inheritance; the marriage-bell that hangs above the heads of the happy lovers in the fifth act; and the pitiless snow through which the shivering blind girl wanders singing her mournful songs, all are prepared by the property-man. Sad is the lot of that luckless wight who forgets to load the pistol with which the desperate villain is slain. The property-man is provided by the stage-manager with a complete list of the properties needed for each scene, and it is his duty to see that they are prepared and in their proper places before the curtain rises.

In the earlier days of the drama it was customary for the property-man to make all his own properties. Continue reading Shams in the Theatre, 1880