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The facial prosthetics of World War I

Why World War I’s wounded needed a sculptor.

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World War I’s horrors not only resulted in death, but severe disfigurement. When plastic surgeons were unable to heal the wounded, a unique solution came in play: sculpting.
Facial prostheses in World War I were a new solution to a difficult problem, and sculptor and writer Anna Coleman Ladd led these efforts for the American Red Cross in France. She made more than 150 masks for the wounded in an effort to provide some semblance of normalcy after their severe injuries.

These masks were made by making casts of the wounded faces, and then sculpting restored faces from that. Those sculptures were then used as a cast for thin copper-plated attachments, which were then attached to the wounded soldier’s face and painted. Though the process wasn’t restorative, it did provide some comfort to the wounded.

That experience shaped Anna Coleman Ladd’s art as well. When she returned to America, she was willing to depict the horrors of war in her War Memorial, as well as the possibility for a new and better day ahead.

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