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Wax has been used a medium for creating lifelike figures for hundreds of years. The original Tussauds wax museum was founded in London during the 1800s. The museum now has locations around the globe showcasing wax sculptures of pop culture icons. Madame Tussauds is a global phenomenon combining art with pop culture.
Who was Madam Tussaud?
Marie Tussaud was French artist born in 1761. Marie’s mother was employed by a physician named Dr. Philippe Curtius who had the skill of creating medical wax models. Dr. Curtius taught this skill to a young Tussaud at only 6 years old. She personally created wax sculptures of important figures such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau and even Benjamin Franklin. During the Revolution, she even created lifelike wax figures of prominent victims.
She inherited Dr. Curtius wax collection upon his death. Marie later was asked to exhibit her work along phantasmagoria pioneer, Paul Philidor, at the Lyceum Theatre. She traveled through Great Britain and Ireland showcasing collection due to the Napoleonic Wars happening in her home of France.
Marie opened her first museum on Baker Street in London, showcasing her main attraction, the Chamber of Horrors. Her museum became a major public attraction in the city of London and was eventually absorbed into the London Planetarium in its west wing. Today, Madame Tussauds Museums include not only historical figures but movie stars, sports stars, and murderers who rose to notoriety.
There are locations around the globe with different original pieces in them. Today, there are 7 locations in the United alone with various locations in Europe, Asia, and one in Australia. The museum has been passed down throughout generations. Upon Tussaud’s retirement, her son Francois became the chief artist for the exhibition. He then passed the position down to further generations until the current owner, Merlin Entertainments, took control of the brand.
Wax figure sculptures is a craft that has stood the test of time and is still a relevant art form in today’s pop culture It has moved from a scientific field into a tourist industry over the course of 100 years.
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Celebrities and iconic people throughout history get the privilege to have a replica of themselves preserved in many wax museums across the globe. Madame Tussauds is the most popular museum franchise that preserves pop culture through the art of sculpture. The process of creating a wax sculpture is quite interesting and requires skill and technique that only few can do. The process of creating a signature Madame Tussauds’ wax figure is normally three months.
Step 1 – Celebrity Data Collection
The first step is referred to as “sitting”. The celebrities meet with the artists for almost two hours while they collect their measurements, proportions, skin tone, and specific facial features that make that celebrity iconic. This is when they also take reference photos and even take hair samples!
Step 2 – The Skeleton
This is the drafting phase of the celebrity. The start with basic armatures and a clay face and begin creating the foundation for the sculpture. Artists ensure that even the bone and muscle structure are anatomically correct to the original person. The head sculpture can take up to six weeks with around 150g of clay.
Step 3 – Moulding
This step of the process takes 170 hours to complete. The original design is molded into plaster and cast with fiberglass. This also allows for replicas of the original sculpture to be recreated. An entire, full figure can weigh around 25 kg.
Step 4 – Hair!
Each individual strand of hair is strategically placed by hand. Eyelashes, eyebrows, and even beards are all individual punched into the wax/ This step can take up to four weeks to finish. Once every piece of hair is placed, it is then cut and styled.
Step 5 – Skin Tone
Oil paints are used to build up layers to create as realistic skin as possible. Almost 20 different skin colors go into creating a lifelike skin. This is when tattoos, freckles, and moles are painted on.
Step 6 – Clothes/Eyes/Teeth
In terms of clothing, many celebrities donate their own clothing for authenticity. If not, designers research and create historically accurate replicas. In addition, custom eyes and teeth are created for the sculpture as well. Sometimes, replica teeth are molded directly from the celebrity. Overall, creating teeth and eyes can take up to about 30 hours.
Step 7 – Finishing Touches
Once everything is put into place, the sculpture is then moved to a photography studio to be documented and critiqued. Each figure is maintained every week to ensure that is preserved in the best shape as possible.