What if you spent every day looking for One Beautiful Thing?

About Face



Anna Coleman Ladd was an American sculptor who gained international recognition for her work with severely disfigured soldiers after WWI. Since cosmetic surgery was only in its infancy, there were no good solutions for soldiers (and others) with irreparable facial disfigurements. They had to either hide away forever or endure the stares and comments they’d encounter on the street. It must have been a terribly lonely life for them. But this sensitive sculptor got the idea to make masks for these soldiers, giving them back at least some sense of normalcy.

In 1917, Ladd, a 40-something Boston socialite, moved to France with her doctor husband. Once there, she met the British sculptor Francis Derwent Wood who ran what was affectionately known as the “Tin Noses Shop.” Located within the 3rd London General Hospital, its proper name was the “Masks for Facial Disfigurement Department.” There, Wood and his staff created realistic face masks to cover disfigured soldiers’ scars. Inspired by Wood, Ladd opened her own “Studio for Portrait-Masks” and began working with soldiers in similar need. Previously, Ladd’s sculpture was mostly limited to half-hearted busts and decorative fountains featuring scrolls and nymphs and sprites. But once she discovered her true calling, she reported feeling joy in her art for the first time.

I first saw masks like hers on the HBO show Boardwalk Empire. There was a character, Richard Harrow, who wore a painted tin mask to help hide his disfigured face. Initially, I found the mask creepy and assumed it was pure fiction. But after doing a little research, I realized the masks were not only real but were also a great kindness to men otherwise afraid to be seen.

Incredibly, there’s video of Ladd at work. Below the video are some examples of her masks.

You can see more of Ladd’s work on the Library of Congress website, and you can read about her life and work in Smithsonian Magazine.

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Author: Donna from MyOBT

I have committed to spending part of every day looking for at least one beautiful thing, and sharing what I find with you lovelies!

16 thoughts on “About Face

  1. Amazing work. Thank you for including the statement about her feeling joy in her heart for the first time in regard to her artwork. She certainly utilized her talents in a very compassionate way.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Remarkable and how compassionate.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Bless her. wouldn’t she be amazed at what can be done today?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Isn’t it wonderful to see those Before and After photos? People like these transformed the lives of these veterans just by deploying their artistic skills with such compassion. I actually went to an exhibition, probably almost 20 years ago now, in London that was about the advances in reconstructive surgery and prosthetics that were made following WW1. The angle of the exhibition was art so there were lots of sketches of disfigured veterans but there was lots of medicine and science in there too. I had not seen video before, however, so that was pretty fascinating.


  5. How amazing! And it’s wonderful to be able to see video footage of the process. Thanks so much for posting.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Phenomenal work! Imagine the heartwarming feeling she must’ve had: before vs. after!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Pingback: Creative Juice #209 | ARHtistic License

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