Arts & Culture

Mardi Gras’s Master Mask Maker

The beautiful Mardi Gras masks of Venice, Italy’s Franco Cecamore

Dollar-a-dozen beads and plastic disguises may be the norm on Bourbon Street these days. But for a true work of art that looks just as good on the wall as it does worn on parade, consider the beautiful Mardi Gras masks of Venice, Italy’s Franco Cecamore.

The Mardi Gras mask tradition is rooted in Venice’s Carnevale, one of the world’s oldest pre-Lenten celebrations. And mask makers, known as the mascherari, have been some of the canal city’s most respected tradesmen since the fourteenth century. Today, though, Cecamore is one of only a handful of mascherari left who are crafting masks using methods that date back to the Roman Empire.

He begins by pressing papier-mache into a mold and then coating it with plaster. Next he applies a gauze backing and dries the mask in an oven before finishing it with everything from gold and silver leaf to velvet and Swarovski crystals. The result is a show-stopping piece of Mardi Gras regalia that will last long after the party is over. “When I saw them, they talked to me,” says Christine Eagan, who discovered Cecamore’s masks in Italy more than 20 years ago and now owns Si Lucia, his sole U.S. distributor. “They seemed to really come alive.”

Beyond their beauty, Cecamore’s masks are meant to be worn. He contours each mold to sit naturally on the face, and he even uses a homemade glue that won’t irritate the skin. “Franco is an artist one hundred times over,” Eagan says, “but he also really understands the importance of comfort. You can wear one of his masks for hours.”

Cecamore’s masks are available from Maskarade in New Orleans and Georgetown Tobacco in Washington, D.C. Prices range between $50 and $600. Click through the gallery below for a sampling.