Paper Mache

April 1st, 2009

Even though it sounds French, paper mache wasn’t made in France until the mid 17th century. However, they were the first country in Europe to do so.

Paper mache actually originated in China—the inventors of paper itself. They used paper mache to make helmets, which they toughened with many layers of lacquer.

From China, paper mache spread to Japan and Persia, where it was used in mask-making and festival activities. Eventually it spread across the world. There was only a half-hearted interest until the late 1700s and into the 1800s, when it became widely used.

Paper mache is French for “chewed paper.” It is believed to have gotten its name from French workers in London paper mache shops who did just that! Whether it is true or not we will probably never know.

An Englishman who was a leading expert in the art of japanning introduced paper mache to America. His name was William Allgood, and he started the Litchfield Manufacturing Company. The company became well known for its fabulously decorated clock cases, some of them made of paper mache.

Paper Mache Balloon

America used paper mache more as a craft rather than a manufacturing material. Women started making useful and decorative household objects of paper mache.

In my Art class we’re doing a paper mache project. We got a balloon, and we’re putting 4 layers of butcher paper and newspaper on the balloon, like in the picture. The butcher paper and newspaper are dipped in this mixture before being put on the balloon. The mixture is water and glue mixed together. Then after we finish with the layers, we pop the balloon and there’s sort of like a paper mache fossil of the balloon. Then we paint the balloon, and we’ve made paper mache! It’s super messy, but it’s also super fun!

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5 Responses to “Paper Mache”

  1. Tom |

    Very interesting, Amber! I have to confess that I didn’t know much about paper mache. The history is interesting—I can’t imagine making helmets out of paper mache, even with lacquer on top of it. I also didn’t know about Allgood and his paper mache clock cases.

    Putting paper mache on a balloon and then popping it to create a paper mache shell seems pretty ingenious to me. But then, I’m probably the last person to learn about doing that!

  2. Amber |

    It is pretty clever of my art teacher to think about that. But… you know, she’s an art teacher. I guess that’s her job. I know I wouldn’t ever think of that.

  3. Tom |

    After I read your article, I was reading some more about paper mache and what you can do with it. One thing I saw was using it to make a mask of your face. You take the paper mache and put it on your face, leaving air holes to breathe, and when it dries you have a mask, kind of like an Egyptian mummy. In addition to being messy while you’re doing it, that would be pretty spooky.

  4. Amber |

    Ewwww! I don’t know if I could do that! I wonder how long it would take to form the mask. What if it got stuck to your face? That wouldn’t be good….

  5. Dan (the Monster Man) Reeder |

    Hello Amber. Just stumbled upon your post. I think you are off to a great start. I can tell that you enjoyed your paper mache experience and are interested in the subject. I just can’t help myself here. This sounds like self-promotion, but I don’t mean it to be. I just want you to see the paper mache possibilities out there. It is wonderful medium. If you are interested, check out my site.

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