Artists' Masks Hid Wounds of World War I Soldiers An article in Smithsonian magazine examines how artists were enlisted to sculpt new faces for soldiers disfigured in World War I.

Artists' Masks Hid Wounds of World War I Soldiers

Artists' Masks Hid Wounds of World War I Soldiers

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/7556326/7581734" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

This photograph taken around 1920 documents sculptor Anna Coleman Ladd's creation of cosmetic masks to be worn by soldiers disfigured during World War I. Anna Coleman Ladd papers/Smithsonian Archives of American Art hide caption

toggle caption
Anna Coleman Ladd papers/Smithsonian Archives of American Art

Technology and trench warfare made World War II soldiers especially susceptible to facial injuries and shattered limbs. This posed significant problems for physicians, who had never encountered disfigurement on such a scale.

They struggled to save patients who streamed in by the thousands. There was little time to think of aesthetics.

Then a group of artists — sculptors, in particular — became pioneers in plastic surgery by learning the art of skin grafting and the creation of masks to cover soldiers' wounds.

Caroline Alexander, author of an article in Smithsonian magazine that examines the medical advancements, tells Rebecca Roberts about the history of the mask-making unit.