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October 8, 2021

Strange and Fabulous Masks Made by Wladysław Teodor Benda From the 1920s and 1930s

Wladysław Teodor Benda was a Polish-American painter, illustrator, and designer. His work illustrated magazine covers such as Collier’s, McCall’s, Ladies’ Home Journal, Good Housekeeping, Theatre Magazine and many others. Many publishers regarded Benda as their go-to artist for his dependability and artistic abilities.

Beginning in 1914, Benda was also an accomplished mask maker and costume designer. His sculpted, papier-mâché face masks were used in plays and dances and often in his own paintings and illustrations. They were used in masques or miracle plays in New York City at venues like the New York Coffee House. Benda also created the masks for stage productions in New York and London for such writers as Eugene O’Neill and Noël Coward.

He became so well known as a mask maker that his name became synonymous for any lifelike mask, whether it was of his design or not. Benda also created “grotesque” masks, which were more fantasy or caricature in nature. Benda created the original mask design for the movie The Mask of Fu Manchu, which was originally published as a twelve part serial in Collier’s from May 7, 1932 through July 23, 1932. The cover of the May 7 issue presented a stunning portrait by Benda. In the latter stages of his career, Benda spent less time doing illustration and more time making masks.

Articles by and about Benda and his masks appeared regularly in many of the same magazines and publications that carried his illustrations. In the 1930s, he authored the Encyclopædia Britannica entry on masks. He also wrote a book, Masks, a study of his own designs and unique construction techniques.

Here, a selection of strange and fabulous masks made by Benda from the 1920s and 1930s.

(Images: Library of Congress)


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