The Tin Nose Shop

American sculptor Anna Coleman Ladd adds the finishing touches to a face mask for an injured French soldier in her Paris ‘Studio for Portrait Masks’, most likely in 1918. 

We have probably all – or maybe not – come across photographs, over the years, of some of the dreadful facial injuries sustained on the battlefields of the Great War (French casualties above).  And although there were various surgical techniques already in use, including both plastic surgery and skin grafting, that could be used to attempt to reconstruct, with varying degrees of success, these men’s faces, there was another way that could at least disguise a man’s injuries, although it does now seem rather crude from the distance of over a hundred years.

Francis Derwent Wood (above, in 1914) was a sculptor in his early forties when war broke out, and, too old to enlist to fight, he became a hospital volunteer with the RAMC and, inevitably, came in daily contact with men disfigured by the weaponry of a modern, mechanised war.  Appalled by what he saw, in 1916 or 1917 (sources differ on the date) he opened the ‘Masks for Facial Disfigurement Department’ of the Third London General Hospital located in Wandsworth.

Masks themselves were nothing new, but Wood’s masks were made of an extremely thin sheet of galvanized copper, as opposed to the old-fashioned rubber and gelatin masks that were still in use, and the process to make them was time-consuming.  The procedure would begin, and it was important that the patient’s wounds and any surgery that may have followed had by this time healed – in Wood’s own words, ‘My work begins where the work of the surgeon is completed – with a plaster cast being made, here by two of Wood’s assistants, of the patient’s face.  This cast would be, of course, a ‘negative’ cast, with the facial details on the inside,…

…but from this cast a second, top example in both the above pictures, would be made, face and injuries now clear to see, and from this cast, and photographs of the patient pre-injury, a third could be made, this time as close as possible to the patient’s uninjured face (above centre left & bottom right).  Once completed, a final cast of this would then be sent away to a local factory for the copper mask to be manufactured, which, once returned, would be hand-painted (example above bottom left),…

…as seen here (above & below), as Wood himself fits and paints this man’s mask.

In an article in The Lancet in 1917, Wood explained his methodology; ‘I endeavour by means of the skill I happen to possess as a sculptor to make a man’s face as near as possible to what it looked like before he was wounded. My cases are generally extreme cases that plastic surgery has, perforce, had to abandon; but, as in plastic surgery, the psychological effect is the same. The patient acquires his old self-respect, self assurance, self-reliance, takes once more a pride in his personal appearance. His presence is no longer a source of melancholy to himself nor of sadness to his relatives and friends.’

If you say so.  Facial accoutrements from what was referred to by soldiers as Wood’s ‘Tin Nose Shop’,…

…and examples of fitted part-masks, although these two photos were taken in France, not in England.

By 1917, news of Wood’s techniques had reached America, where another sculptor, Anna Coleman Ladd (above), after contacting Wood in London to discuss mask techniques, would soon leave for France, under the sponsorship of the American Red Cross, to set up her own studio in Paris to complement Wood’s work in London.

Her basic technique was the same as Wood’s, the masks hand-painted by Ladd (left) using enamel, washable, paints after experiments with oil paints proved unsatisfactory (they chipped).  The process would be completed once the mask had been fitted to the patient’s face in order to achieve the correct matching colours (right).  In the background casts adorn – that might not be quite the right word – the studio walls.

Different casts, same shelf – look carefully (click to enlarge, as always), and you will notice that these are in pairs, the lower row matching the upper row – without injuries – in both pictures.

More casts hang on the walls in Ladd’s studio.  Interestingly, you can see four casts (bottom row), or even five (row immediately above), from what is quite clearly the same soldier in each case, each cast with less of the soldier’s injuries showing, which proves, surely, that in some cases, at least, more than the requisite number of casts that I mentioned previously were made?  I have numerous theories as to why, but as none of them hold much water, we’ll move on.

One of Ladd’s assistants demonstrates placing a mouth & chin mask on a cast to check the initial fitting.

Two more of Ladd’s casts; note the breathing tubes visible in both shots, despite which it must have been a suffocating experience for the patients.  Lance Corporal Ward Muir, who had worked as an orderly with Wood in Wandsworth, wrote, ‘The squeeze (cast), as it stands, is a literal portrait of the patient, with his eyeless socket, his cheek partly gone, the bridge of the nose missing, and also with his good eye and a portion of his good cheek. The shut eye must be opened, so that the other eye, the eye-to-be, can be matched to it. With dexterous strokes the sculptor opens the eye. The squeeze, hitherto representing a face asleep, seems to awaken. The eye looks forth at the world with intelligence.’

Completed masks, possibly still awaiting their finishing paint touches – it’s difficult to tell – in Ladd’s studio.

Fitting a completed mask for a blind soldier.  There follows a series of before and after photographs, all taken in Ladd’s studio, of some of her patients.  In days gone by, perhaps, in the days of paper and ink, this section might have been preceded by a warning, or even be sealed so as not to offend sensitive eyes.  I once owned, pre-flood, a Daily Mail inter-war compendium of Great War photos which had exactly that; a sealed section at the back which, to be fair, did include some appalling photos.  The point being that you have been warned, and whether you continue or not is up to you.

Many of these photos were originally attached to American Red Cross photographic mounting cards such as this one,…

…and it has been an interesting task trying to match photos of the same soldier from numerous different sources; these four shots (above & below) show the same soldier as on the card, unmasked (above) & masked (below).

Unmasked (above) & masked (below).

Above & following: Men with nose injuries, with and without masks.

Spectacles, as in the majority of these cases, would frequently be used to attach the mask behind the ear.

This soldier, fitted with a nose mask (right) with attached spectacles, has what is known as a pedicle on his forehead in both shots, intended in time to provide him with a new nose*, and also clearly suggesting that some masks were intended to be merely temporary.  And therein lies the rub; these masks, worn every day, could hardly be expected to last very long, Ladd writing, some time later, about one of her first patients, ‘He had worn his mask constantly and was still wearing it in spite of the fact that it was very battered and looked awful.’

*all to be explained, but not this post.

Injuries to the eye,…

…or eyes…

…could be covered by smaller masks.

Without mask (above) & masked (below),…

…these masks…

…including a cigarette holder as an optional extra.  Or perhaps, back then, it was mandatory!

This soldier has injuries to his jaw and chin (left), concealed by a mask (right),…

…and these stills from one of the best-known snippets of film of Ladd at work that still exist,…

…just happen to feature the same soldier, do they not?  See what I meant earlier about same soldier, different sources?

And, just like busses, another one came along.  These film stills show a soldier removing his bandage…

…before one of Ladd’s assistants fits his mask,…

…and makes a final adjustment, before Ladd herself enters the final frame, far right, to view the results.

And this is the same soldier with his finished mask shown on the right.

Appalling facial injuries,…

…and an attempt to show the benefit to even this man of wearing a mask; as seen in public beforehand (left), his face almost completely obscured by bandage, and with mask (centre & right).

Blind soldier and sighted colleague, unmasked (left) & masked (right), Ladd herself adding the finishing touches,…

…before the same soldier and friend…

…are ready to face the world.

One of Ladd’s assistants fits a mask on another soldier.  On the wall in the background of these shots…

…you’ll spot this picture, showing Ladd and one of her sculptures.

At which point we return to where we started, with Anna Ladd and the French soldier – his name was Caudron – we saw in the very first photograph of this post.

Before and after; his facial injuries were horrendous.  Like so many soldiers in this post he wears his medals, in his case the Medaille Militaire and the Croix de Guerre.

Notice board on the studio wall.

Another photographic mounting card, the photo showing Caudron and fellow patient Cavallier playing cards.

Caudron & Cavallier, masked; although Wood did not use real hair for eyebrows or eyelashes – eyebrows were painted on, eyelashes were fashioned from extremely thin strips of metallic foil, tinted, curled and soldered to the mask – Ladd would improve the technique by using real hair for eyebrows and, as in both these cases, moustaches, and copper wire for eyelashes.

Ladd & Caudron once more, this time illustrating a contemporaneous article – note the use of the present tense – on Ladd’s work.  In all seriousness, the use of the word ‘thousands’ is stretching the truth way beyond breaking point.  Although there are, apparently, no actual figures available, Francis Derwent Wood is known to have provided masks for ‘several hundred’ injured men, and Ladd’s studio actually produced 185 masks before it closed in early 1919, frankly a drop in the ocean compared to the tens of thousands of men who suffered facial injuries during the war. Ladd herself considered that ‘there are between two and three hundred men in the American army who require masks’, far fewer than in the French & British armies, although the only evidence that there were Americans among her patients that I can find is an example held in the Antony Wallace Archive of the British Association of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons (BAPRAS) which is apparently known to have been made for an American in her studio.  As far as I can ascertain, all the soldiers featured in this post, except the soldier pictured with Frances Derwent Wood, are French.

Christmas 1918 festivities, Ladd seated second from right, right-hand shot.  Some men wear their masks, some don’t, and, in keeping with all the other photos shown in this post, you won’t spot a mirror anywhere.  After the war, the men in the masks simply disappeared into the general population, certainly in Great Britain, and thus no records survive documenting their fates, although the French Union des Blessés de la Face (the Union of the Facially Wounded) provided accommodation, if required, for both disfigured men and their families.

Woods’ ward at the Third London General Hospital (above – the hospital at around the time of Wood’s residency, with some Canadian patients shown in the inset) remained open until 1919, he would be elected to the Royal Academy in 1920, was Professor of Sculpture at the Royal College of Art until 1923, and he would die in 1926 at the age of fifty five.  Ladd’s studio too would close in 1919 with the cessation of her American Red Cross funding (she would die in 1939 at the age of sixty).  Whatever your thoughts on the whole concept of portrait masks, we’ll leave the last words to a wounded soldier who expressed his gratitude in a letter, ‘Thanks to you, I will have a home……the woman I love no longer finds me repulsive, as she had a right to do.’

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4 Responses to The Tin Nose Shop

  1. ALAN BOND says:

    Excellent post thank you for researching this subject: I had seen several photos of French soldiers but didn’t not realize that it started in UK, life must have been tough for men who were badly disfigured and these 2 operations were just a drop in ocean and the fact that both closed shortly after the war ended highlights the fact that those that hqd fought were soon forgotten by those in power. It seems that nothing changes.

    • Magicfingers says:

      Thanks Alan – sorry for the delay in responding btw – it’s been an interesting piece of research, with more to come at some point.

  2. nicholas Kilner says:

    Another really great post on what is a very difficult subject, from any perspective. It must have been truly life changing for these men to be able to disguise the horrendous damage that had been done to them. Many I’m sure wished they had not survived, and I think there can be little doubt that A good many will have taken it upon themselves to finished the job that the bullet, shrapnel or shell fragment started. Little wonder looking at photographs such as these that post war suicide rates were high. And yet, with the meticulous work of people like Ladd and Wood, some semblance of normality could be achieved. I’m sure that in their own way they both saved a good many lives.

    • Magicfingers says:

      Thank you Nick – it’s a subject that I thought required a bit of research – there’s quite a lot of stuff on the net, but it’s all a bit piecemeal, all in bits and bobs around the place, so I thought I’d kinda see if I could pull it all together. Hopefully I have done so.

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