Special masks helped wounded WWI soldiers get their lives back — and they were all made by the same woman, Anna Coleman Ladd.
Ladd was an American sculptor living in Boston. She married a physician, and his work took them to Paris in 1917. She opened a studio in Paris with support from The Red Cross where she began make face masks for disfigured soldiers.
She would first make a plaster cast of their face, then make a mask out of thin copper, modeling it using old photographs. She’d then paint the mask to match the person’s skin tone.
Ladd would spend up to a month working on one mask. Her work changed the lives of many WWI veterans. WWI left an estimated 20,000 people with severe facial injuries. Soldiers hit with bullets, shrapnel, or flamethrowers could often be saved, but plastic surgery wasn’t advanced enough to repair severe deformities. Many were left with a misshapen face that made it hard for them to go back to life as normal.
A report from Ladd’s studio stated, “One man who came to us had been wounded years before and had never been home. He did not want his mother to see how badly he looked.”