simple is beautiful
New York Daily Photo: Wax
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Thursday, 10 January 2008


I have previously voiced my feelings concerning those things which may be viewed by many as too touristy and that in many cases, such as the Empire State building, offer much of value and warrant a visit. However, in the case of Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum, I am guilty of not following my own advice and have never visited. In my defense, wax museums in the United States do have a poor reputation and it is not so unreasonable to avoid them. And of course there is also the issue of artistic snobbery - that something merely representational is not worthy of serious consideration, even if it has been done with meticulous accuracy and the results are astonishingly real. This wax figure of Samuel Jackson was on 42nd Street outside the museum - a lure to get passersby to go in. It certainly was remarkably lifelike. In reading about these figures and the work, I was impressed at the level of artisanship and the story of Madame Tussaud was equally fascinating.
Marie Tussaud (1761 - 1850) was born Marie Grosholtz in Strasbourg, France. She learned her craft from Dr. Philippe Curtius, a physician who was skilled in wax modelling, which he used to illustrate anatomy. Marie lived for a time at Versailles. Suspected of possible royalist sympathies, she was actually in prison awaiting execution with her head shaved. She was saved by her sculpting talents and employed to make death masks of those executed by guillotine, including Marie Antoinette, Marat, and Robespierre. A traveling showman (with the collection of wax figures left to her by Curtius) she finally settled in London and had her first permanent exhibition on Baker Street in 1835. Read the history here at the Tussaud Museum website.
The New York incarnation of the famed London museum occupies a five story building in the Times Square area on the exact site of Hubert's Dime Museum and Heckler's Trained Flea Circus (another amazing story). The roster of wax figures reads like a who's who in themed environments. The figures are created at substantial cost and time - taking months for creation. Celebrities and notables typically pose for a few hours - likenesses are then created from hundreds of intricate measurements along with photographs. Faces are made from 30-piece plaster molds; hair is inserted strand by strand. I think it's worth a visit ...


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