Monday, October 10, 2011

Snug's Mask from Midsummer Night's Dream - or the Nemean Lion, take your pick.

Our SCA Baronial fall event is called Legacy of Lions. It it celebrating our 35th anniversary, and the number of extraordinary people in the Barony over the years. The Arts and Sciences theme is 'Lions', and all entries should reference lions in some form.

Documentation isn't required, although it is helpful. There are 3 prizes given for A&S entries, based on the favorite entries of the B&B, the Lady of the Lion and Lady of Lyonesse. The Baroness and both Ladies are Laurels, so - documentation=good.

After many false starts on Lion projects - a scabbard, a pouch, and something else, which all ended in failure (including a huge gash in my thumb from the scabbard project) - I was giving up on a suitable project. I was still working on the weaving (now done, pictures to follow soon!) - and I was in a funk.

While finishing the weaving, I decided to put in a fun movie to help with the time. I chose the Kevin Kline version of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' - light comedy, lots of fun, but not much thinking, since I am very familiar with the play.

And what do I see at the end of the play? A lion. Not a fierce lion (t'were pity on his life to scare the ladies, after all!) - but proof that Shakespearean theatre used animal masks in certain situations.  And since I HAPPEN to have a BFA in theatre, I have LOTS of references to masks, Shakespeare, etc.

So - I pick up my copy of Shakespeare, and check the publishing date on Midsummer. 1594-1595. Perfect. Late, but definitely before the cutoff, and not in the grey period. I read the part. Definitely mentions a mask - one where the actor's head could be seen if necessary. So far, so good.

I have a book on Mask Making that included making leather masks for Commedia dell'arte, said to be the same techniques used during SCA period. OR - make that I -HAD- that book, but as I was looking for it, we remembered that it had been lent out to a friend, whose house had burned down, and we'd never gotten a replacement for the book. ARGH! This is less than a week until the event - no time for ILL. So - it has references, but the documentation will be rather sparce, on that count.

But - I have my Theatre history book, my Shakespeare book, and a few other articles on mask making. So I did a basic write-up, based on previous mask making experiences.

Then - it was time to find the leather. Now - I have a garage full of leather (like - enough to start a small shop ... don't ask, it's a painful subject!) - but could I find good mask leather? No, of course not. It has to be vegetable tanned, so it will mold, and can't be too thick, or it'll be too heavy and hard to shape. So I found some that should be perfect, right? And then look at it, and realize that while it IS vegetable tanned leather - it has a finish applied that makes it almost plastic! WTF?!? Why would someone take perfectly good leather and DO that to it. But - it's a large piece, and if it doesn't work, I still have time.

So - with Terry's help, I get the basic Lion shape cut out, and we do the wet-forming. The leather doesn't squish the same (the top-coat stops it) - but it does hold shapes, and some molding was possible.

The plan was to do all the shaping, let it dry, and then paint/dye it afterwards to make it look like a lion. However - the way the finish is on the leather, dye and paint would be an 'iffy' proposition - and painting is NOT my strong point. So - I think the natural finish on the leather is fine for this project, and looks pretty good. If I did anything, it would be to line the eyes and nose in black, to play up the 'lion' shaping.

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