I was recently inspired to design and build this art deco goalie mask. One of the big questions I often ask myself is: how did uniforms and sports equipment escape the influence of the great design periods of the 20th century? I love art deco and mid-century modern design, and these two movements affected the design of almost everything imaginable: cars, architecture, fashion, furniture, right down to some of the most simple and unassuming objects. Yet sports uniforms during these two periods did not change drastically and certainly did not seem to be influenced in the way almost everything else was, from a design perspective.
I explored this idea previously in a DIY piece featured on Uni Watch, where I made a series of jerseys in sort of a ‘what if’ scenario. One of the jerseys was this oxblood and tan art deco design:
I am a former amateur goalie, and have always dabbled in uniform and equipment design. I love the classic fibreglass mask era, and a number of years ago made this vintage-style mask:
I’m glad I did it, however I’m not interested in working with fibreglass again. The fumes are horrible, and the fibreglass dust gets everywhere, is itchy, and in general just not pleasant to work with. So I just forgot about mask making and focussed on other things like jerseys and other things. But the desire to make masks still lingered. I began thinking how I could make a goalie mask from other materials that would be easy to work with, and eventually wondered if I could make a mask from wood, and if I did, what kind of story I could come up with to explain its existence.
Goalies did wear masks prior to Jacques Plante popularzing them beginning in 1959. Wire catcher’s masks were sometimes worn by goalies such as Teiji Homna, and Clint Benedict wore a leather nose guard probably intended for football in the 1929-30 season. Both were fairly practical solutions to the issue of face protection, and didn’t show any hint of what was to come with the era of fun painted designs in the 1970s.
So, I came up with a design based on what a goalie mask might have looked like prior to the development of fibreglass, but not based on masks intended for other sports. Wood may seem like an unlikely material, but consider that raising the puck, not to mention high-velocity shots, were not commonplace as they are today. In addition, I thought about what other materials could have been used. Metal, like a knight’s helmet, would probably have been too cold to wear in a frozen barn. Wood would have decent insulating properties. Leather was possible but I really think a rigid design is needed to stand up to the puck. So, I accepted a fictional wooden mask design as a somewhat plausible answer to what an art deco goalie mask may have looked like.
From there, the fun part was working in different elements and materials to make my art deco hockey mask come alive. I used a fluted art deco-like trim, and made the ‘cage’ portion from hardware and dollar store finds. I Wanted a vintagy Art Deco look and this grill suited the look I wanted, while still somewhat referencing the modern mask with the cage opening. You can see through it – vision is limited but yes you can see. Also part of the fun was sourcing these materials, it might be fun to guess what the grill is – I didn’t make it from scratch.
I used various paint techniques to add a weathered appearance, as if the mask had been used for years. The green and cream colours were influenced by colours I had noticed in architecture and industrial design. The interior features a cotton webbing to hold the mask in place, and the interior is lined with vintage-looking thick felt padding.
Once I completed this first mask, I wanted to make a couple more to experiment with some different graphics and cage designs. The first one is this two-tone nautical-themed mask. Due to the flat surfaces and prominent place of the masks, I figured it would be a likely spot for advertising to appear. In this case, a fictional seafood shop based in Seattle. I used a wooden rope trim and also a wooden anchor as the raised details. I also made a hanging throat guard from thick wool fabric.
I spent a bit more time on the interior harness, making it from a few different materials including a leather holder and coloured wool trim. In the photo above you can also see the wool interior padding.
The final mask was this turquoise one based on a team called the Whales. I used wide craft popsicle sticks to create the streamline designs. I couldn’t decide which cage to use so I decided to double two of them up, which wound up looking good.
This was a fun and unusual project for me, but a nice way of shaking things up a bit. And in case you are wondering, yes they are wearable and yes, you can see out of them (a bit).