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Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Waxing lyrical: the genesis of a wax mannequin

Hands up who's been to a waxworks? Almost everyone can recall as a child at least one trip; marvelling at the likeness of your favourite TV character or gazing wistfully up at Her Majesty in full regal finery. The Secret Life of Mannequins promised you some fascinating peeks "behind the back of the window!" and this one is literally a GEM.

The Secret Life of Mannequins have friends at the wax mannequin makers GEMS STUDIO a specialist manufacturer of museum wax character figures. In the company's long history (told in correct fullness and detail at history of GEMS STUDIO wax mannequins) wax was always the manufacturing material of choice for realistic looking figures before fibreglass became available. Wax is acknowledged as having the closest appearance to human flesh, with a delicate level of translucency and depth.

In days gone by wax mannequins were often made using glass eyes, real hair and teeth: glass eyes are still evident, but dentures and synthetic hair have taken the place of previously authentic items! GEMS STUDIO have collected a small archive of these rare antique pieces, which were also made using a more volatile form of wax, that melted at a far lower temperature than its contemporary equivalent, thus causing problems in summer months in the days before air conditioning!

Today's wax mannequin is a very different and modern affair: not only used for the display of traditionally historic garments, but also for showcasing contemporary clothing in a characterful way.

GEMS STUDIO work with a number of prestigious clients ranging from museum curators through heritage presentations and modern wax museums to high end fashion designers: all have a very different end purpose, but a very considered intent.

Before the team at GEMS can start to manufacture a wax figure, they must have a mould of the sculpt or cast body part to be made. Depending on the size of the piece, the mould may be made in alginate, plaster or fibreglass. The one shown to left has been heavily reinforced with a casing to hold the parts rigidly in place during the process.

Wax is heated slowly to an optimum working temperature then swiftly but with extreme dexterity transferred into the mould.

An expertly smooth pour is required in order that air bubbles do not get trapped at the extremities of the piece ruining the cast.

Sometimes the wax is coloured with pigment to obtain a base tone, over which each layer of paint is applied to reach the target flesh colour.
After casting, heads have the eyeball section removed and the glass eyeballs are inserted. Eyeballs are custom made by a specialist company to a detailed spec. relating to the initial reference images. Layers of the skin tone are built up and hair is added. Hair will usually be a combination of a wig piece with hand inserted hairline. Shown below right is a hairline painstakingly being inserted, hair by hair! Shown below is a head for the fashion designer Rick Owens.

 Shown below are finished some examples of wax heads and hands produced by GEMS STUDIO: the detail and realism is stunning. See more of this companies work at: www.gems-studio.com
Pope John Paul II
Padre Pio
a pair of wax hands

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