Mask and puppet master: The traditional Italian skills being taught in Scotland
It is a traditional Italian skill dating back 500 years.
But now Italians are coming to Glasgow to study the craft of mask-making at the Scottish Mask and Puppet Centre.
Master craftsman Dr Malcolm Knight trained in Italy in the 1970s and is an expert in producing creations in the style of the Italian Commedia dell’arte, a form of drama dating back to the 1600s.
He is now passing on his skills to a young student from Milan – and the irony isn’t lost on him.
As he joked that it was like “taking coal back to Newcastle”, his apprentice, 27-year-old Francesca Marini, said the skills she is learning in Scotland are no longer being taught in her home country.
Mr Knight, 67, said: “The misconception is that mask making is for kids, but it’s an ancient and popular root.
“Unfortunately, however, there’s no serious teaching of it in institutions.”
The craftsman first became interested in masks because he was intrigued by the notion of being able to “read a person by their face” and why people felt the need to create and wear masks.
He traveled to Italy and studied under Donato Sartori, the son of famous Italian mask-maker Amleto Sartori who reinvented the masks used in Commedia dell’arte after World War II.
The traditional methods involve the creation of wooden or lead moulds which are then draped in leather to form the masks.
Ms Marini, who moved to Glasgow to live with her medical student boyfriend, approached Mr Knight after researching her options online.
She has been working with him at the center in Glasgow ‘s West End for nine months and praised Mr Knight’s dedication and expertise.
“I don’t think I could’ve had the same training in Italy,” she said.
“Maybe I could’ve found someone who had been doing it for a long time, but not someone who could’ve dedicated such a long time and told me everything.
“Malcolm is one of the people who have more knowledge because he learned from the master.
“I learned how to make shadow puppets and after that, I started training for making leather masks.”
Mr Knight, who is the executive director at the mask and puppet center, has led a colorful life as an actor and entertainer, as well as a puppeteer and mask maker.
He played Mr Spoon in the surreal 1980s children’s show Button Moon, but much of his life has been dedicated to the theatre and the skills associated with it – including a long-running battle to save puppetry and mask-making skills.
However, his art form has caused him some difficulty over the years.
Recalling how his mask-making skills once got him arrested, he said: “During the height of the miners’ strikes, in 1974 I was arrested after wearing a mask of Edward Heath.
“We were performing on Sauchiehall Street and raising money through theatre for mining families.
“The police said we were doing a demonstration when actually it was a recited show.”
Mr Knight believes young people like Ms Marini are the future and “lifeblood” of the theatre – but he has no plans to completely hand over the reins to the younger generation just yet.
He said his love of the theatre is as strong now as it ever was and he has no plans to stop working on his creations any time soon.
“I want to spend another 20 years or so more on promoting radical theatre in Glasgow,” he said.
“I love what I do and like Tommy Cooper, if I die, I’ll do it on the job.”
The center was founded in Glasgow in 1981 and moved to its current site at Balcarres Avenue in 1989.
It includes a theatre, cafe and exhibition space and regularly hosts workshops and performances.
In January last year, it launched a campaign to raise £450,000 for a new theatre space and facilities for TV and film recording.