Wladysław Teodor Benda was a Polish-American painter, illustrator, and designer. His work was published in Collier’s, McCall’s, Ladies’ Home Journal, Good Housekeeping, and Theatre Magazine. Several publishers considered Benda to be their go-to artist due to his dependability and artistic abilities.
Benda began designing masks and costumes in 1914. He used papier-mâché face masks in his paintings and dances and frequently in plays. At venues like the New York Coffee House, they were used in masques or miracle plays. He also created the masks for stage productions in New York and London for Eugene O’Neill and Noël Coward. During his career as a mask maker, he became synonymous with any lifelike mask, regardless of whether it was one of his designs.
Additionally, Benda created “grotesque” masks, which were more caricature-like. Bennda designed the mask for the movie “The Mask of Fu Manchu,” initially published in Collier’s magazine from May 7, 1932, to July 23, 1932. The cover of the May 7 issue featured a stunning portrait by Benda. Later in life, Benda focused more on masks than illustrations. Many of the magazines and publications that featured Benda’s illustrations carried articles by and about him. He wrote an entry on masks for the Encyclopaedia Britannica in the 1930s. Additionally, he published a book, Masks, in which he describes the unique construction techniques he used to craft his designs.
Below are a few of Benda’s strange and fabulous masks from the 1920s and 1930s.