10,000 life-like Shakespeare masks to be given away to Bard fans at Stratford-upon-Avon birthday celebrations!

Shakespeare Mask (2)
[Shakespeare Mask and painting by artist Geoffrey Tristram]

A commemorative Shakespeare Mask will be issued as a souvenir for 10,000 visitors to Stratford-upon-Avon on Shakespeare’s birthday. The gift comes courtesy of parade organisers Shakespeare’s Celebrations, who are preparing the 2016 festivities to mark 400 years since Shakespeare’s death.

During the traditional Quill and Flag Unfurling ceremonies at the heart of this year’s Birthday Parade, the Master of Ceremonies will invite the crowds to put on their masks and give ‘Three Cheers for Shakespeare!’
On the reverse of the mask, there’s a quick and easy guide to the Birthday Parade and other events on the day. Students from local schools will be distributing the 10,000 Shakespeare Masks from around 9:30 on the morning of 23 April in the town centre.

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In 2015, Stratford-on-Avon District Council and Stratford-upon-Avon Town Council jointly commissioned the development of a portrait of the Bard which could be used to create a novel celebrity face mask. The image had to be a recognisable likeness of William Shakespeare, in a high definition, photographic quality for production as a cardboard face mask.

Mike Gittus, Chairman of Stratford District Council said: “This was always going to be a challenge with Shakespeare’s death having been early in the 17th century, long before any form of camera. We concluded that just as important as the accuracy of the image of the mask, it had to be publicly recognisable as that of the famous Bard of Avon. Most importantly the chosen image had to be capable of being converted into a full frontal face mask.

“We knew that when ‘the world’ ponders on Shakespeare, it sees in its mind’s eye the famous Droeshout engraving of him. This is the picture inside the First Folio of his collected works printed in 1623 and the accuracy of this engraving was endorsed by his contemporary Ben Jonson. The choice was suddenly made simple. Armed with world famous picture, the search was on for an artist to produce a suitable version for conversion into a mask.”

The call was successfully answered by local artist Geoffrey Tristram. Based in Stourbridge, West Midlands and with a lifetime’s experience as a painter and illustrator, Geoff set about discovering what Shakespeare really looked like.

He takes up the tale: “I’m a meticulous kind of fellow and looked at many images of the Bard, taking countless measurements of facial features, cross referencing and overlaying them. I also studied colouring and texture of skin. Gradually, a shape common to several portraits emerged which fitted remarkably closely to the famous Droeshout engraving. But it views the subject at an angle, so my research helped me create a new, head-on view of the face. A typical Elizabethan ruff completed the picture and my portrait became a very convincing Bard!”

Shakespeare scan low res
Geoff was so encouraged by the results of the project that he proposed a second portrait, an oil on canvas which he’s also now completed.

Both portraits will be on private display in the Town Hall over the Birthday Weekend, 20-24 April, transferring for public display to the reception area of Stratford-on-Avon District Council in Elizabeth House for the following week to coincide with the Stratford Literary Festival.

Go here for the official Shakespeare’s Celebrations website.