WCSU to display famed artist’s masks

DANBURY, CONN. — Famed artist, mask maker and costume designer Władysław Benda will be the subject of an exhibition this month at Western Connecticut State University. “The ‘False Faces’ of W.T. Benda” exhibit will run from noon to 6 p.m. Wednesday, May 19, through Friday, May 21, in Alumni Hall on the WestConn Midtown campus, 181 White Street in Danbury. Benda’s great-grandson Thatcher Taylor and Associate Professor of Theatre Arts Elizabeth Popiel will discuss Benda’s work at a reception at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, May 19, also in Alumni Hall. The event will be free and the public is invited.

Taylor, a senior in WestConn’s theatre arts program, said his great-grandfather was an illustrator who emigrated to the U.S. from Poland in the early 1900s. According to Taylor, Benda’s mask-making hobby started when he was asked to create one for a costume party in 1914. The hobby eventually turned into a career. From 1916 to 1948, Benda illustrated posters for the war effort, designed covers for LIFE magazine and was a contemporary of illustrators Maxfield Parrish and Charles Dana Gibson.

Popiel, a set design instructor, said Taylor introduced her to Benda’s masks when he was a student in one of her classes. “It was the first time I learned about W.T. Benda,” she said. “It sparked a curve of research and learning for me that was unprecedented.” Knowing that Benda referred to his masks as ‘false faces,’ Popiel titled the exhibit “The ‘False Faces’ of W.T. Benda.” After a year of planning, Popiel and Taylor staged the exhibit at the United States Institute for Theatre Technology annual conference in Kansas City, Mo., earlier this spring. Popiel is the vice commissioner for props of the scenic design commission of the USITT.

Taylor said the masks have an important meaning for him. “They each have their own significance — whether they were made for my great-grandmother who was one of his models, or a prominent actress or model of the time — or just for fun.”

Popiel said she has a similar fascination with the famous faces made from paper tape in a form of paper mache. “They have an awesome and rich heritage that I have just now become aware of in doing the exhibit and presentation. They are beautiful, well-crafted and awe-inspiring. To anyone who has worked in this type of craft, they are priceless because of the mastering of the construction technique and the emotion that they portray,” she said. “I have no favorites. I love them all.”

For more information, call Popiel at (203) 837-8843.

Western Connecticut State University offers outstanding faculty in a range of quality academic programs. Our diverse university community provides students an enriching and supportive environment that takes advantage of the unique cultural offerings of Western Connecticut and New York. Our vision: To be an affordable public university with the characteristics of New England’s best small private universities.


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