Research point 4.1 continued – Wendy Moyer and her work with radiation masks

I have decided to add a second blog as a continuation of the research point 4.1 which concentrated on different contexts for textiles.

Wendy Moyer. Sometimes the poison is the cure. 16″ x 12″ x 8.76″.

The first addition to this point is a mixed media work by the textile artist Wendy Moyer and this has a particularly personal resonance to me.

Ms Moyer has used a radiation mask as a basis to create something more beautiful and something that has new life or new beginnings intimated but there is also an intimation of remembrance by the use of the poppies which I shall come back to.  Ms Moyer has sought to explore the void left by physical or emotional experiences and how nature can fill and take over that void – I can relate to that directly as my instinct on days where emotions take over is to head towards nature whether just sitting near a calming river or finding solace amongst plants.

Ms Moyer has used a combination of the radiation mask with gelatin pill capsules, ultra suede and synthetic materials, jute and agave fires, copper wire and these are all combined in a soft sculpture which  has been hand-stitched and also fire sculpted which is one of her trade mark techniques. This fire sculpting both stops edges fraying and also enables the molding of the particular piece whilst it is still warm/hot into the required shape which is then held when the piece cools down.

As stated this piece holds a very personal resonance to me as I have worn one of these masks 17 years ago when I had to have radiation for a rare head and neck cancer.  My first instinct after diagnosis was to head to a river as I needed nature to calm me and heal me in order to face the world and hence I particularly like the theme of not just this work but the body of work which it is part of.

The methodology for making these masks used to be, (17 years ago), started with Vaseline or similar around the hairline and ears before a layer of menthol cream of some nature being applied to the face to prevent the bandages and plaster of Paris sticking which are the final layers.  I cannot abide the smell of menthol to this day! When the masks are made your eyes are covered and they prefer to cover your mouth as can be seen by this particular mask although mine was left clear as I cannot breathe though my nose clearly.  The layers only take a short while to dry and it is a huge relief when the cast is removed – it was a very claustrophobic experience.  The cast was then used to create a plastic or resin mask although I am unsure of exactly what was used when my own was made as I remember it being solid as opposed to a mesh.  The process now is much simpler and involves a soft mesh that is heated and placed over the face, bolted to the base board and it molds accordingly to the person’s features – once dry it is marked with the appropriate marks needed for treatment ….. I cannot say  how much I wish it had been that simple when I had it done!!  Realising the difference in techniques I now understand that textiles were used to make my mask although they are no longer.

To see this artist using these things of torture, as so many of us who have worn them call them, being turned into artistic pieces is very moving – I feel Ms Moyer is using the masks to create a positive memory rather than a memory of treatment that is not particular pleasant …. the masks are bolted to a board during treatment and that for me personally was worse than the treatment itself until the side effects started to kick in and then the mask becomes symbolic of those side effects.   The capsules Ms Moyer has used around the hairline may represent medication taken to counter side effects or taken in addition to the radiotherapy.  The poppies for me are the most symbolic – they do feel representative of new life but they are also very symbolic of remembrance …. perhaps remembrance of many of who have lost hard fought battles against cancer and also perhaps remembrance of the treatment the masks were worn for.   Any person who has worn one of these masks may view the poppies differently – personally the fact they are made of synthetic  materials and ultra suede really strikes a cord with me as they appear soft, rich and velvety in texture and feel symbolic of new beginnings whilst reminding me of many friends lost to our rare cancer, including one dear friend who passed away during the duration of this course.

I am not sure if I would personally I could handle seeing these masks in person or in different locations although I can imagine the perception would be very different if seen in a variety of places.  I have always wished I had kept my mask for use at Halloween – a black sense of humour is sometimes needed but now wonder what I could have done with it with the addition of other textiles taking inspiration from Ms Moyer.   Is this something I feel I can take forward into my own work? I will decline …. the memories are simply too personal although if I do work on personal identity at some point in the future then there is no doubt my ACC (Adenoid Cystic Carcinoma) will be part of it and maybe the masks will be depicted in a different format so there is the potential that Ms Moyer may influence my work at a later point.


Moyer, W. (date unknown).  Gallery Filling the Void [online].  [Date accessed:  July 2017].  Available from:


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2 Responses to Research point 4.1 continued – Wendy Moyer and her work with radiation masks

  1. annvann says:

    I don’t hate my mask. It was warm having it made which was comforting and it was carefully put on everyday by the radiation therapists. I brought it home and it hangs around here and there. When I was healing from PTSD I made a series of masks using plaster of paris. ..not the same thing at all.
    I have always painted the inside as well as the outside.
    Great article. Maybe it can be posted in ACCOI.


    • jane513155 says:

      Thank you so much for commentating and your kind suggestion of posting in ACCOI …. I wonder if I should change my article to ‘many but not all hate their mask, with some more than others’? I love the idea of doing a series of masks using plaster of paris and painting both sides as a way of healing – you took the mask of healing and made it even more positive.


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