From Ancient Egyptian Pharaohs and Greek heroes to Beethoven and groupies, the history of body molding is full of idolization.
Rooted in the idealization of the dead, ancient Egyptians believed in the preservation of the body through mummification. In order for the departed soul to return to its body, it needed to recognize itself, so the Egyptians created a mask of the deceased’s face. Though the early masks weren’t molded from the faces themselves—the mummification process preserved the features of the deceased—the masks were molded over the mummified faces and painted to the likeness of the deceased. In reality, the images painted were exaggerated features of the dead in order to elevate them to the level of gods. These masks, originally made from wood, were most commonly made from cartonnage; a linen or papyrus soaked in plaster and then molded on wood. For royalty, however, the death masks were created from gold or gold leaves on bronze and decorated with the semi-precious stone, lapis lazuli.
Death masks were common in other ancient civilizations as well. Ancient Rome used wax to preserve the faces of the dead which they would later reproduce with stone, while the discovery of six Mycenae graves in 1876 revealed the gold masks of six Ancient Greek heroes (one belonging to Agamemnon, the King who commanded the Greek army to attack Troy, ensuing the Trojan War).
The art of casting languished, only making a brief appearance in the 1300s, while its big resurgence occurred in the late Middle Ages. During this time, the masks were cast of royalty like King Henry VIII and Peter the Great, or of esteemed personages like Beethoven, Chopin, or Dante Alighieri and were created before death.
In 79 AD the gigantic volcanic mountain situated between Herculaneum and Pompeii erupted. Spewing hot lava over 20 miles high, Mt. Vesuvius’s thermal heat caused instant death. Between the lava and intense heat, the swift fall of ash led to the preservation of parts of Pompeii and its dead. Encasing the bodies, the hot ash hardened and the body decayed, leaving a preserved copy of the deceased. In 1777, excavators discovered a plethora of hollow pockets where human remains could be seen. Instead of digging them up, Giuseppe Fiorelli (the director of the excavations) suggested the pouring of plaster in the pockets in attempt to preserve what was discovered. Once hardened and removed, the plaster revealed almost exact replicas of the deceased bodies during their moment of death. These were the first recorded full-body molds.
Body Molding as We Know It
From the 18th and 19th centuries onwards, body molding became an acknowledged practice and was executed in a variety of fields. Anthropologists and forensic scientists used death masks and body molds to study human physiognomy and to preserve unidentified bodies. By the 20th century, Hollywood had picked up the art. Prosthetics and props were commonly made from the castings of human bodies, while the medical industry began using the technique to create prosthetics and dentures. Pregnant women began casting their torsos or their newborns hands and feet to preserve the memory of their youth. As the years passed, body molding became a specialized market.
The Rich and Famous
Enter Cynthia Plaster Caster in the 1960s. Shy, artistic, and madly in love with rock music, Cynthia thrust her way into the body-molding world by cloning the penises of rock stars. This legendary “recovering groupie” cloned musicians from Jimi Hendrix to Jello Biafra and has recently been casting the breasts of famous female musicians like Karen O. By the 1980s, another caster was on the scene. Willa Shalit was a lifecaster who molded her subjects’ faces and bodies. She has cast five former Presidents, actresses like Farrah Fawcett and Sophia Loren, athletes like Muhammad Ali and Natalia Makarova, and important leaders such as Rosa Parks and the 14th Dalai Lama.
In 1996, after receiving his PhD in Chemistry, Dr. David Claus began selling specialized polymers to a special effects house in Hollywood. Due to the supplier’s increasing prices, Dr. Claus began creating his own resin formulas and manufactured those solely to this special effects house. That is, until other houses got word and began purchasing from him too. As computer generated imagery (CGI) became the cheapest and effective tool for special effects, the demand for his resin plummeted. Now in chiropractic school, Dr. Claus discovered a need for an inexpensive, but highly customizable orthotic. He created a simple kit that he sold to chiropractors and podiatrists. During this time, a small film production company contacted Dr. Claus in need of realistic-looking penises of varying shapes and sizes. Tweaking the orthotic kit, which included a step of reproducing the patient’s foot in resin, he turned it into a penis copying kit. Turning out a huge hit on set, more requests were sent in. Cheri magazine caught wind and wanted to do a reader contest, birthing the first penis molding kits. Teaming up with Joe Hanson, a then magazine advertising agency owner, the two created what is now the most personalized dildo on the planet: Clone-A-Willy.