Behind the Masque: Owl Mask Concept and References

What is more intriguing than and 18th c. Masquerade (and it’s masks)?

American Duchess’ first monster project, which all the dress diary entries so far have been working towards, is the notorious fully-feathered 1795 Owl Robe. The monster is to be made for the Halloween events this year (2009), which are two costume dance events (Gaskells and Vampyres), and any other events that pop up and need attending. And thus, to accompany the Monster, an equally monstrous, enormous, and impressive *MASK* must be fabricated.

So let’s look at what’s out there:

Turkey tails, wings, and dyed feathers. Pheasant plumage from the back.

These look like rock (chicken) feathers that have been dyed.Black rooster schlappen – a LOT of it. I love the height on this mask.

Pheasant tailfeathers, from what I can see. The gold feathers are likely paper or pressed, thin aluminum.

All of these mask images are from Google searches across the web, no particular vendor or source.

The inspiration for my mask, aside from the owl of course, is Carnivale in Venice. This event is the master of over-the-top, and a must see for everyone interested in costume (no, I have not been, but it is on my bucket list). The masks are hauntingly gorgeous, with fantastic attention to detail, topped off with towering headdresses of feathers, beads, sumptuous fabrics, you name it.

My own version of the towering headdress will start with my biggest Wig Of Great Enormity. Into that I shall stick at least three tall ostrich plumes. The face mask will extend upwards from the eyes – this is a half mask, so I can breath and hopefully keep the thing on all night.

Thus far the concept is only half-materialized in my head. I know I want big, I know I want tall, and I know I want feathers by the bushel. The face of the owl will be as realistic as possible, which will likely involve sculpting the mask, perhaps on top of an existing plastic form, or perhaps from scratch. Some of the robe feathers (strung rooster schlappen) will almost certainly be used, as well as long Turkey wingfeathers, possibly pheasant tails, and if I can manage it, I’d like to attach some fanned wings. Somewhere in my mind I have the knowledge that feathers can be bleached and dyed. If this is indeed true, and does not require some horrid chemical that will kill my braincells, then I will attempt to bleach whatever wings I can scrounge from my “source,” and then fleck on some black dye or paint spots to mimic the coloration of barn owl wings. The wings I may have access to will be dove, quail, chukar, grouse, or pheasant – game birds only.I imagine mask-making to be much like hat-making: it sortof leads itself and becomes what it wants to be. I will keep in mind my general concept, but let the mask develop, once the time arrives to start making it.


  • The Dreamstress

    May 22, 2009 at 11:32 PM

    Exciting! I took a course on mask-making, but I suck at it.

    If you need more feathers or want real owl-feathers I have a box of owl feathers stored at my parents house in Hawaii that I could have them ship to you. I’m sure they would love to get rid of any of my junk that I am storing there. I’m not sure what kind of owl they are – whatever the non-native owl in Hawaii is. I got them from an owl that was killed in a storm. I cut off the biggest feathers and then buried it.


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