Serving Art Educators
and Students Since 1994
Submitted by: Cathy Gaul Haddonfield Friends School
UNIT: Ancient Greeks - Sculpture
Lesson: Greek Theater Masks
Grade Level: 6th grade lesson
Note: Each class is 1.5 hours long - Adjust to your schedule for shorter periods
Note: This will take two classes for shorter periods. To learn how to create plaster gauze masks, you can visit other IAD lessons that cover this information on this link: Masks Around the World
Objectives: student will
* Learn the importance of mask in Greek theater - be aware of history of Greek theater
* Integrate planning - design and construct a masks that shows exaggeration of features
* Build up features using paper maché mash
* Enhance features with tints and shades
* Embellish mask to add character
* Put on a play with masks
Vaseline Petroleum Jelly
Plastic wrap (to cover hair)
Plaster Gauze - Precut to strips
Water dishes (Warm water will speed drying)
Newspapers to cover surfaces
Large trash bags to cover clothes
Damp paper towel (Optional- some prefer to cover the face with one layer of paper towels first)
Paper Mache pulp - or Celluclay Instant Papier Maché
Acrylic Paint - Brushes - Mixing Trays
Yarn Assortment - furs - fake hair - cloth
Cord for hanging (leather cord would be nice)
(Click on all the images on this page for full size)
I begin the lesson by showing a PowerPoint presentation on Greek Theater and the masks from online sources. We discuss the necessity of exaggeration in theater costumes and masks especially and how the Greeks achieved the range of emotions in their masks using sculptural techniques. The 6th grade class studies the Greeks and Romans in social studies and this lesson coincides with their studies. They sketch a mask on paper with Colored Pencils or Crayons, emphasizing smile or frown wrinkles, cheeks, eyebrows, etc in exaggerated facial expressions using source material from their classroom and library books and magazines.
They have made plaster gauze face masks twice in the past, so they are good at making the masks on each other. We review the process, they prepare the supplies and make the mask of their partners face for the second half of day one. There are two changes in the usual molding of the face – 1. Leave the mouth and eyes uncovered when molding the gauze and 2. Make the expression on your face and freeze it before your partner begins the plaster gauze process.
The masks are ready for facial expressions. I mix up instant papier mache mash for the facial contours and exaggerations of wrinkles, sags, bags cheeks and chins. They get lots of time to make their masks expressive following their sketch from day one.
Note: This will go into a second day for shorter periods. Have a activity ready for those who finish early.
The base coat of paint is applied over the mask, and blending of highlights and shadows occurs. This gives the masks more definition and contour. We talk about what happens as a person ages and wrinkles form and facial muscles start to go. Decisions are made as to hair application. I have lots of fake fur, mop heads, yarn, doll hair in hanks, etc for additions. These items are gathered while the masks are drying in our drying room. Since the class is 1.5 hours, I usually begin the next project at this stage.
Glue Gun hair and anything else in place, touch up paint, make name tags, drill holes for hanging - attach cord.
Evaluation: sample rubric (revised from Marianne Galyk)
Guide to Ancient Greek Theater (Archive)
Masks from Greek Tragedy (Archive) - Types of masks
Purpose of Greek Masks (Archive)
Greek Masks - mosaic images (Archive)
Information on Greek Theater - Summary - no images
Greek mask reproductions - Commercial site - more commercial sites are online
Student designed Greek masks (For an Art History course)
Fun memory game activity for Greek masks (Archive)
The Art of Ancient Greek Theater - Over ninety Greek theatre objects—pottery vases, sculpture, reliefs, and masks—from museums across Europe and the United States are featured in this book. Over 130 illustrations reveal the Greek origins of theater and their multifaceted expression in the visual arts.
A Short Introduction to the Ancient Greek Theater - In addition to photos of scenes from Greek vases that document theatrical performance, this new edition includes notes on ancient mime and puppetry and how to read Greek playtexts as scripts, as well as an updated bibliography.
Mask and Performance in Greek Tragedy - Why did Greek actors in the age of Sophocles always wear masks? David Wiles provides the first book-length study of this question.