Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Vintage Funeral Mask Comes To Life

After 1st cleaning before remount.
 It feels good to take care of my kitsch and transform it into home decor. Have you heard of the Death mask of Agamemnon? I've always been somewhat enamored with Bronze Age Greece (c.2500-1100 BCE), the Minoans and Mycenaeans, so when I noticed an old souvenir reproduction of the famous funerary mask in a box lot it was quite a find! I was thrilled to add it to my small collection of funeral art and masks.

The original artifact is a mask of gold that was found in 1876 by Heinrich Schliemann in Mycenae. It was dubbed as the "Mask of Agamemnon" because Schliemann was convinced that he'd discovered the final resting place of the mythical king of Mycenae, commander the united Greek armed forces during the Trojan War. The mask, however, is most certainly not the face of Homer's fabled king because it is much older than the historical Agamemnon.

When I received my version of the mask it nearly resembled an artifact dug out of the ground, likely having spent many years boxed in a garage. It was mounted to a padded trophy shield of black velvet and faux green paper crocodile skin. The velvet had lost its fuzz and was worn threadbare on the edges. It was dusty, and the metal had begun to "green-up" in a few places -- a damage that will continue to spread if untreated. So I cleaned old Aggie up and put him aside until I got around to creating a new background mount.

The first photograph shows the "before" and the second photo is the nearly finished product. It's resting in a regular picture frame now but will soon go into a glass encased shadow box frame for protection from dust and debris.

I started by brushing some Cardinal Red craft quality acrylic paint over a large piece of archival sketch paper. When that dried (thank you blow-dryer) I crinkled it firmly into a ball. The chalky texture of the paint cracks open a bit in the crinkles exposing the soft paper, which I then smoothed flat and washed with a thin coat of Burnt Umber craft acrylic paint. I wiped off the Burnt Umber with a soft moist cloth then let the paper sit overnight. The next day I adapted the design from images of genuine Mycenaean fresco using Antique White and various blue craft paints.

After the design was finished I coated both sides of the paper with Liquitex Acrylic Varnish. The high amount of acrylic polymer in the quality Liquitex product increases the lightfastness and gloss of the craft paint plus protects the surface of the metal mask from chemicals that could migrate up from the paper or paint. The painted paper was then attached to paper board using PVA glue. The mask was originally wired onto its old mount but over time the weight of the piece had begun to pull it out of shape. I opted for thick dabs of hot-glue as reinforcement. It's a strong hold yet could be removed for re-mounting in the future.

I'm happy with the level of protection I've given to this piece and enjoy it much more than when it was mounted to a dirty black base. Time well spent!

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*Original art images ©Tree Pruitt, unless otherwise indicated. Contact the artist prior to ANY use.