Adam Houghton had the opportunity this past fall to take a professional development leave and travel to Italy, Germany, and Nebraska to learn from renowned mask makers and performers.
Houghton describes his interest in researching more about mask making as a seed planted during his time as a student at BYU in the Theatre and Film Department. He especially enjoyed his mask performance class and makeup classes, which helped form his long standing interest in mask making and mask performance.
Houghton started out in Italy to study leather mask making from the most famous European mask makers– the Sartori family. The family craft began when Amleto Sartori collaborated with Jacques Lecoq to design masks post WWII. Sartori passed the legacy down through his son Donato, who then taught his daughter Sarah, who in turn taught Houghton. Says Houghton, “their masks are universally praised for the design and quality of construction.”
Houghton was one of eight participants in an international workshop taught by the Sartori family that lasted the month of July. Houghton comments, “The process is not simple and there are no shortcuts in their studio. I felt a major responsibility to learn as much as possible because the teachers were passing their learning on to me. I also felt a depth of tradition into which I was adopted.” He learned how to carve a wooden form for the mask and then build the leather mask onto that form. During the workshop, he designed a mask he titled “Brother” in multiple mediums.
After Italy, Houghton moved on to Germany to participate in a mask performance workshop taught by Björn Lesee, a member of a successful Berlin mask theatre called Familie Flöz. The workshop took place during a conference and festival called the Deutsche Figurentheaterkonferenz. The conference was sponsored in part by the Union Internationale de la Marionnette (UNIMA), which is a worldwide organization that utilizes the art of puppet theatre in order to strive for peace and mutual understanding without distinction as to race, political ideas, or religion. Houghton was delighted with the opportunity to communicate about theatre in German while visiting the place where he had served his mission.
Houghton’s last stop in his tour of mask making was to Lincoln, Nebraska–home to renowned American mask-maker Doane Powell. Houghton was able to examine the masks Powell created in the 1940s-50s, including a mask of FDR.
After returning, Houghton was able to apply his learning to create a set of 16 masks from paper-mache to use in mask classes and performances at BYU.
Moving forward, Houghton expresses his passion for spreading the knowledge that he gained in the gospel setting that BYU provides: “BYU has a profound mission to teach disciplines in the light of the restored gospel; I try to teach my discipline like that.” Houghton describes his professional leave as “a deeply enriching time,” and looks forward to continuing to see the impact of that time over the coming months and years.