Two prototype maquettes of the BAFTA mask

n.p.. c1955.

A plaster cast (108x90mm) and a model in bronze (170x140mm), both of which are prototypes for the BAFTA "theatrical mask" trophy. The plaster model is mounted on a short, thin metal rod and the bronze on a metal rod inserted into a wooden block. Both models have the symbol representing an atom with four electron orbitals around one eye and a rectangle symbolising a television screen around the other. These were central to the design from the beginning and represented the technology which underpinned film and television. The bronze has aged attractively with patches of verdigris. Both models came from the Art Bronze Foundry in Chelsea where the BAFTA masks were made until 1976 and so they are a rare link with the earliest years of the award. Sold together with an archive of printed material relating to the television awards.
The famous mask was the result of a commission in 1955 by Andrew Miller-Jones of the Guild of Television Producers whose first awards ceremony took place that year with the mask making its first public appearance as a prize. The separate British Film Academy (founded in 1947) had been running its own ceremony since 1949 awarding a trophy designed by Henry Moore. The two bodies merged in 1958 to become the Society of Film and Television Arts and Cunliffe's mask continued to be awarded just for television. In 1976, SFTA became BAFTA and the mask trophy began to be awarded for all categories in both film and television, the first one going to Charlie Chaplin when he was made a Fellow of the Academy. It was in 1976 that the Art Bronze Foundry stopped making the masks and they began to be manufactured at the New Pro Foundries in West Drayton.
Sold with the masks is an archive of letters and documents. There are forty-four letters and accompanying attachments from The Guild of Television Producers, SFTA or the BBC to the Art Bronze Foundry, with orders for the mask Awards. Some of the correspondence deals with the administrative side of their relationship, such as payment and delivery. Many of the letters provide a list of award winners and their category so that the Foundry can engrave the plaques for the wooden stands. These cover most of the award ceremonies between 1960 and 1974 and provide a wonderfully nostalgic wallow for anyone who grew up watching a great age of British television. There is also a letter from Mitzi Cunliffe herself to the Foundry dated 22nd October 1965. In it she asks the Foundry to return the "plaster original" as a souvenir as someone was buying her copy of the bronze casting. We think that she is referring to the larger plaster cast which we mention below. The last letter is a touching one from BAFTA to the Foundry dated 10th June 1980 noting that although a different firm was now making the masks, "we would like to place on record our very grateful thanks for the consistently high craftsmanship that went into their production".
The designer of the mask, Mitzi Cunliffe (1918-2006) was born in New York, deciding on the direction of her artistic career after seeing the sculptures at Chartres Cathedral. She married the English academic Marcus Cunliffe in 1949 and moved to Manchester where he was teaching. There she carried out much of her carving and modelling in the garage at their house. Her first major commission was for the Festival of Britain in 1951 where her sculpture Root Bodied Forth was placed by the main entrance on the South Bank. She then produced three large public sculptures for Liverpool University including the gorgeous Quickening and later in the 1950s, Cunliffe carved Man Made Fibres for the Clothworkers's South Building at Leeds University, an extraordinary work in which a pair of hands holds a weave of threads.
But it is for the BAFTA award that Mitzi Cunliffe is best known. She originally called it the "Jason Mask" and it clearly draws on the tradition of Greek theatre, its calm expression sitting somewhere between tragedy and comedy. Its style is rooted in the aesthetic of Festival of Britain classical modernism. Cunliffe intended the sculpture to be seen in the round and to link the worlds of technology and the arts, hence her decision to use the modern, scientific symbols on the reverse. Her first models for the mask were made in plasticine and then plaster casts were made. A photograph survives of Cunliffe with a plaster model which is larger than the present one and without the metal rod (see Cunliffe's letter referred to above). We are of the view that the small plaster model offered here is an early cast made by Cunliffe. Its size and somewhat contingent quality suggest a preliminary work in progress. The bronze cast was made by the Art Bronze Foundry which was recently wound up after 100 years in the King's Road. It was the prototype from which all subsequent masks were made by the Foundry for twenty years and represents the first bronze model on which the more recent BAFTA award has been based since 1976. These two models, with their links to the designer and the maker represent the fons et origo of this famous, beautiful sculpture.

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