Smithsonian Magazine features a wonderful article this month on the ‘Tin Noses Shop’ of London. The London General Hospital’s Masks for Facial Disfigurement Department, founded by sculptor Francis Derwent Wood, created astounding prosthetic faces for the wounded soldiers of World War I.
The prosthetic masks were actually fashioned of galvanized and lightweight copper and weighed as little as four ounces. The facial features were originally painted on with oils until artist Anna Coleman Ladd, who went on to head a similar facility in Paris, developed an enamel technique that was washable and had a highly realistic finish. She painted the mask while the man himself was wearing it, so as to match as closely as possible his own coloring. All skin hues and details were painstakingly done by hand and Details such as eyebrows, eyelashes and mustaches were made from real hair. Each mask was a quite literally a masterpiece and changed lives. As one soldier wrote to Ladd:
‘Thanks to you, I will have a home. The woman I love no longer finds me repulsive, as she had a right to do.’
It is truly a shame that today the only images of these men in their masks come from black-and-white photographs.