An Unusual Paste Recipe, and a Family’s Adventures with Paper Mache

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Today’s guest post is by Christopher Dowie, who shares his ‘Nana’s’ recipe for paper mache paste. He also tells us a few stories from his family’s long-time love affair with puppet-making and marionettes.

Paper mache has been in Christopher’s family tradition for three generations. He tells us some of his family’s stories below the video.

My Nana’s Special Method for Making Paper Mache Paste

©2018 Christopher Dowie

Over my lifetime I’ve used paper mache for more projects then I care to mention. The only constant throughout this whole story is the paste. The recipe for the paste and what’s more important the technique with which it is made comes down to me from my grandma, Violet Dowie (a.k.a. Nana) who use to make paste for Pop, who was a paper hanger by trade.

So every night Nana would make a great big pail of paste and then leave it on the back of her big old oil stove to keep it warm. When pop left for work in the morning, he always had a nice warm bucket of paste to keep his hands warm on his way to work. “Real nice on a cold days”, he would say.

When I was very young I would paper mache for my dad, but he would always make the paste and never showed me how to do it. He just said I was too young. When I was around 10 years old my grandparents moved into a flat my dad had built behind his shop for them to live in so they would be close. One day I was doing some paper mache for Dad who was not at home at the time and I ran out of paste. I asked Nana to make me some and she was shocked I didn’t know how to make paste!

So she set to and showed me how to make it. I have tried to write out the recipe for her paste a few times over the years, but it’s not in the recipe it’s in the technique of how it’s made. You can really use any amount of flour. So the only way that I can teach you is to make a video and show you how it’s done. You can see the video above.

For a while now I’ve been wanting to share some of my knowledge with people because I find if you have knowledge and you don’t share it then you run the risk of having what life has taught you lost forever. So in the spirit of “Give a man a fish and feed him for a day, Teach a man to fish and feed him for life.” I would like to share with you my knowledge of paper mache.

I started paper mache when I was just five or six years old, working for my dad who was a commercial artist at the time. I remember he was making a large Easter display for the lobby of the Vancouver Hotel. I recall there was 4 or 5 rabbits 4 to 5 feet tall dressed in waist coats and bonnets, a giant yellow duck who moved it’s beak and lots of very large flowers, bigger than your hand, along with 25 or 30 giant Easter eggs.

This must have been about 1964 or 1965 and he taught me how to paper mache and set me to covering balloons to make the giant eggs. As I recall it was some form of cruel torture and I made lots of mistakes.

Old-time display made withpaper mache
This is an Easter display my dad made around 1967. I not only worked on the paper mache on this one, but dad built this from one of my drawings.

Starting Early with Paper Mache

So I started in the craft of paper mache when I was very young and I learned all sorts of stuff along the way. It’s one of my modus operandi to always hone my techniques no matter what aspect of craft that I might be working in.

I’ve always been of a mind to experiment with new ideas and find out what is the best possible way of doing something and then sticking with that and then try to improve upon it. The path to success is through failure, so long as you learn from your mistakes then they are not failures. To learn nothing is the true failure.

My dad, Fran Dowie (a.k.a. Himself!), was an Entertainer and a Showman and produced variety shows of all manor and size for all sorts of different occasions. For instance he produced a show at Barkerville Historic Park in the interior of British Columbia for some 19 years in the summer months and he also produced variety shows for Dawson City in the Yukon.

During the winter months he would do convention shows and Boy Scout shows as well as mount shows of his own. He would turn his hand to just about any form of show business that came his way. One of the things my dad learned early was that puppet shows sold well at Christmas time.

Pop Discovered Marionettes in France in WWI

My grandfather Frank Dowie (a.k.a. Pop) was in the first World War and fought at Vimy Ridge. While overseas, when he was in France, he saw a rather amusing show performed by puppets and it intrigued him. He found out they were called French marionettes. After Pop got back from the war he married my grandma and my dad was born in 1920. Soon after dad was born they all moved to Vancouver B.C. from Regina Saskatchewan.

Pop became a paper hanger by trade because in those days you had to have a respectable job and being part of a theater troupe was not considered respectable. So pop would hang paper by day, but his heart was in performance and he would do what show jobs he could on the side.

Pop would sing songs and do the act he created in the trenches in WW1 when he was part of the famous spur of the moment theatrical troupe called “The Dumbells” that was formed amongst the ranks to entertain themselves.

An Unusual Paste Recipe, and a Family's Adventures with Paper Mache
Here’s Pop doing his stuff from the Dumbells show at a Canadian Legion show around 1965.

Through the 1920s pop would perform a Vaudeville Act with a fella who was his partner for a while. One day when dad was 8 or 9 years old, so the story goes, Pop’s partner was too drunk to perform. So dad stepped in and took his place and “Frank and Francis” became an act and performed in Vaudeville all throughout the Lower Mainland of B.C.

Frank and Francis vaudeville show in 1929
Here are Frank and Francis, posing for a front of house show card for the Orpheum Theater on Granville Street in down town Vancouver, B.C. in 1929. Today you can find my dad’s “Walk Of Fame” Star on the sidewalk across the street from the Orpheum. When dad and I attended a big show at the Orpheum to celebrate all living stars from the walk of fame (my dad did 3 of his acts that night and went over big). After the show at the reception, my dad said to me sarcastically, “Oh yeah! that’s a great place for my star. That way the drunks can come right out of McDonald’s and throw up all over it!

How Marionettes Helped the Family During the Depression

When hard times hit in the 1930s and Vaudeville was in decline pop remembered the French marionettes that he had seen in Europe and proceeded to build a show for my dad to perform.

French marionettes works on the “black art” principal of puppetry, where you dress in black velvet from your neck down and you stand behind a stage that comes up just above your waist. Behind you is a black velvet curtain.

Around your neck you have hanging a small 12 inch tall puppet body with arms and legs operated by black rods and as your hands are wrapped in Black Velvet, the audience cant see how the puppets are being moved, it’s quite a splendid effect.

Then you would sing a song, make the puppet dance around and have some sort of gag to end the act. With this idea, Pop and Dad produced a whole variety show in miniature. Pop would play the piano and my Dad and his younger brother, Oliver Dowie (a.k.a Toller O’Shae) would sing and perform the puppets.

None of those puppets survive and I’ve never seen them, but dad told me they were made of paper mache. The little show turned out to be a real money maker during the depression. Not so much from doing the actual shows but from selling advertisements on the front curtain which was a tradition of the old vaudeville theatres.

The “front of house curtain” was referred to by a nickname, “the Oleomargarine”. In most big-time theaters the makers of Oleo Margarine always took the center spot on the front of house curtain what was covered with adds for local businesses and as people would take there seats before a show, they couldn’t help but read the advertisements. Thus the nickname resulted from that.

So Pop would make better than $200 a season just selling ads on the oleomargarine of his puppet theater. Good money for the 1930’s.

A Second Generation Gets Into Show Business

My dad remained in England after the second world war which he took part in. He was a Flight Sergeant with the Canadian Air Force entertainment troupe known as “The Black Outs” where he was a comedian and also, where he met my mom who was a singer in the same outfit.

After the war my parents stayed in England and performed at many of the Air Force bases throughout England and Europe with their shows. Their best show was called “Pistol Packin’ Rhythm” and was a musical cowboy spoof type of show.

Dad would play a very small guitar and mom would accompany with a washboard with cow bells and horns all over it. Part of the show was “Stainless Steel the wonder horse”, what was a pantomime horse made out of paper mache and worn by the base player and the fiddler and they had a crazy act to go with it.

The Dowie family came back to Canada in 1960. By then I was the youngest of four kids. I was born in 1958. Dad carried on with his Showbiz career and in 1962 he started performing in Barkerville Historic Park. A real original gold rush town from the great gold rush if 1862.

Dad became known as the “High Priest Of Nostalgia”. Dad’s Barkerville Show,”Nuggets Galore,” went on tour across Canada in 1966 and 1967 for the confederation centennial celebration paid for by the federal government. They wound up the tour in LaRonde, Quebec at Expo ’67.

My sister, Sally and I were billeted with a family in Richmond BC while our parents and other two siblings were on tour across Canada.

French Marionettes Arive

One day dad showed up out of the blue. He had with him a big black box about a foot deep, 2 feet wide and 6 feet long. He proceeded to unpack the Box and inside it was a set of French marionette puppets. In fact there was an entire show.

He emptied the box and turned it upside down and legs folded out and that became the stage. The box lid became the top of the stage connected by wing supports and pillars on each side of the stage and the proscenium arch what were all made with paper mache.

All the bits and curtains turned into a small theater and thus, we kids started performing Christmas shows. That was 1966. I still have that box with those puppets, some of which are made out of paper mache. In subsequent years the sets got bigger and became elaborate castles, all made with paper mache. The acts got more elaborate too and a lot of that was done with paper mache.

An Unusual Paste Recipe, and a Family's Adventures with Paper Mache
This is my sister Sally performing “If I could talk to the animals” from Dr. Dolittle. Multiple animal bodies numbered about 8, mounted on a long board covered in black velvet, with a human body on one end. She would sing the first chorus as a human and when she sang the chorus for the second time, then the animal bodies would slide into view one at a time. Each animal had it’s own custom movement. What you see here is the last animal, an ostrich that would lay an egg at the very end. This photo was taken at Breakfast With Santa in “The Haida Room” restaurant at the Hudson’s Bay Store at Richmond Square Mall in 1968. The puppets, the puppet set and the castle theater were all made out of paper mache. The whole thing packed into a box that was 4 feet by 8 feet and 16 inches deep. The box itself is behind the valence curtain below the puppet’s feet.

Dad’s Large Displays Made with Paper Mache

Dad would build large seasonal displays for a few of the larger hotels and they were almost exclusively made from paper mache.

I remember one time Dad was commissioned to make two 30 foot tall Snowmen for on top of the veranda at the front of the Vancouver Hotel. He built them out of paper mache and gambled on the fact that December would be cold and snow would be falling instead of rain.

But unfortunately 2 days after the snowmen went up, Vancouver had a major downpour and OH NO! There it was on the front page of the Vancouver Sun newspaper, headline- “Snowmen Melt! A Soggy Christmas!” with a half page photograph of the withering disaster.

The Day I Met Face-to-Face with a Giant

Dad was always building giant things out of paper mache. One of his standard rentals was a 12 foot tall Santa Claus made from paper mache and big hotels would rent it for their Lobby at Christmas time.

I remember once when I was about 3 years old, dad had a shop in Ladner B.C. and one day he locked his keys in the shop. His solution was to put me through a small window at the back of the shop and have me unlock the door.

Unfortunately for me at the back of the shop is where Dad stored the 12 foot tall Santa Claus. When I came through that window and was suddenly confronted with this giant man who looked so real I thought it was alive! I was afraid he would just reach out and grab me…… I froze solid.

It took some coaxing from my dad to get me to move and I moved real slow so I wouldn’t attract the giants attention. That terrified me for a long time. I thought Giants were real and no matter how much my dad told me it wasn’t, I didn’t believe him because I had seen it with my own eyes.

When eventually I realized that he had made it, the fear went away.

An Unusual Paste Recipe, and a Family's Adventures with Paper Mache
This is me when I was a teenager getting throttled by a giant Santa Clause. The other person is my stepmother, Louise Dowie (a.k.a. Louise Glennie ,her maiden and professional name). She was a comedian and would front my dad’s puppet shows and perform her own act in his variety shows. Often she would front dad’s puppet shows as Mother Goose and the goose was made from paper mache and so was the phoney arm that looked like it was holding the goose, while her real arm and hand were actually inside the goose making it come alive. This was long before radio controlled puppets were common and the effect worked well.
An Unusual Paste Recipe, and a Family's Adventures with Paper Mache
This is a 12 foot tall rabbit my dad made for an Easter rental for the lobby of the Georgia Hotel in Vancouver. I think he redressed Santa and just made the rabbit head, like the good Scot he was.
An Unusual Paste Recipe, and a Family's Adventures with Paper Mache
This big fella was built out of paper mache for the lobby of the Hotel Toronto. Almost as tall as our house! I wish you could of seen the shipper’s face when he showed up to pick up something for shipment to Toronto. A deer in the headlights don’t quite catch it. Seldom do you see a soul so bewildered. No worries though, it came apart in 3 pieces.

I Begin Making My Own Puppets.

Soon after I started performing puppet shows I started making puppets myself. When I left home for the first time when I was 18, I set out on my own and built my own show with puppets and sets all built from paper mache.

An Unusual Paste Recipe, and a Family's Adventures with Paper Mache
Took me near 4 years to accumulate this mess of puppets because I had to work to eat and stay alive. Lots of innovations though with mechanical stuff you can’t see.
An Unusual Paste Recipe, and a Family's Adventures with Paper Mache
This is how I commonly use paper mache these days to build puppets. This is Sammy the Seagull from one of my own puppet shows. His skull, eyes, beak and the shell that makes up his body are all crafted from paper mache. His cloth based form is made with unbleached cotton and all covered with short haired fur cloth and felt. His hat is a soft sculpt losely stuffed with poly batten. Kids love him. He’s first mate to Captain Fink the Pirate.
An Unusual Paste Recipe, and a Family's Adventures with Paper Mache
This is the highest profile work I’ve ever done with paper mache. I made the Punch and Judy puppets that live over Santa’s fireplace in the Disney movie “The Santa Clause 2”. The puppets are carved from styrofoam then paper mache is applied, then it’s painted and dressed. Very light puppets, much lighter than traditional wooden carvings.
An Unusual Paste Recipe, and a Family's Adventures with Paper Mache
This last pic is a candid shot taken on the movie set, of the two Canadian puppeteers they flew into Vancouver from Toronto just to work my puppets. I’m sorry fellas, but your names escape me. They might be in the movie credits though, but don’t try to look for my name there. It’s not there. I got more money if I remained anonymous and let folks think the puppets are Disney products, and in a way, I suppose they are. Of which I am very proud.

48 thoughts on “An Unusual Paste Recipe, and a Family’s Adventures with Paper Mache”

  1. Wow, what an amazing story and interesting life you have lived! Thanks so much for sharing. I loved the snowman story, that would be just my luck. The things you and your family created boggle my mind. I am looking forward to hearing more. Cheers!

    • Rhonda, Thank you for commenting. There are so many different directions I could go in. I think my next article will be on the technique I was taught, what is different to the way Jonni does it. I’ve shown you a new way of making paste, now I should show you how to best use it.

  2. What a lovely read! I do envy you your rich history; it must have been great to grow up in such an interesting family. I’m going to try the recipe. With such an illustrious past, it can only make beautiful things.

    • Megan, Thank you for commenting. Well, like almost any family we had our ups and downs. Like being on a ship, you have no idea life is any different on other ships and if you wondered at all, you might think things were better elsewhere. Dad could become enraged over something and ten minuets later, all was forgotten (in his mind anyway). In calmer moments I would point this out to him and he would say, “I’m just tempermental….. half temper and half mental!” Then he would smile a disarming smile. With dad, you could forgive a lot. He was special. I loved him.

  3. Christopher, you are a wealth of information and I so appreciate you sharing with everyone. I have never heard of Dip and Drape but I am going to check to see if they still make it. The largest I’ve made in paper mâché is about 5.5 ft and it has been animals and abstract. Sounds like your Dad used everything possible to create his art. So impressive.

    Thanks again for your advice.

  4. Christopher, I have made many paper mâché animals and have never used a recipe like yours. Sometimes the old recipes are the best, especially when it has been handed down thru a family. Thanks for sharing your knowledge and technique with those of us who just love paper mâché. I know of several people who have used cloth dipped in paste for the soft folds it makes. I wonder if it will deteriorate with time like the example you mentioned in your reply. After all, paper is wood but most cloth is a plant.

    • Patricia, Thank you so much for commenting. Some birds never know they can fly until they get pushed out of the nest, then life takes on a whole new perspective. We have used cloth in the past. Especially when you want to make something strong, like a shield or a helmet and you want to build up a thickness fast. Applied in the largest pieces that the curve of the surface will allow in order to cut down on the overlapping joints that are more pronounced with cloth mache. Also used to make hinges on things like boxes and screens, not the strongest way to do it, but for displays and props it works well and cuts down on the cost of hardware. Also used to reinforce areas that prove weak, usually applied in that case from the inside. To make folds as in a draping garment, that is hard to say. Really depends on a few parameters, such as, how big is the
      finished piece to be, are you going to apply paper over the form to re enforce it once the first application is dry? Do you plan to paint the finished piece or leave it raw? What is the finished effect you are going for? All these sort of questions come into play and only experimentation will determine if you have chosen the right technique. I can tell you this though, any time my dad wanted to get a draping effect he would form it out of card stock, like manella tag and then paper it or he would use this stuff called Dip & Drape, what he got at the hobby store and it was a plaster impregnated cloth. A Lot like what they wrap your arm in at the hospital when they put it in a cast only a commercial product like that. Came in large flat sheets (folded up) and you would cut out the shape you needed and dip it in water and drape it. Once it dried it looked beautiful, but only as tough as you might think laster cloth would be… not very. Most of the time he would just paint it but if he expected the item would be under stress, then he would apply paper or cloth over the plaster after a coat of paint to seal it. He experimented with Dip & Drape quite a bit at one time but decided it wasn’t much good for general construction as it was too fragile. But once he made a group of manikins for Fort Steel, he used it a lot to form the flowing aspect of the garments. I hope this help you. As for deterioration of cloth once it’s encased in the paper mache, it doesn’t, so long as you keep it dry. Air, dry rot (mold) and mites are what deteriorate cloth and hair. Wood or plant based, once encased in the paste, none of those things can get at it. Especially if you use a clear coating of some kind.

  5. Sir Christopher i was so delighted to see your article on Facebook!!! It’s about time the family secret was shared with the world. What Wonderous memories we have.
    Your brother and i used to do seasonal displays for the Hyatt Hotel, the Royal Bank and the Four Seasons Hotel all in Vancouver BC. You never married into the Dowie Family without getting into the act !!!
    ( Did quite a few shows as well as sold them to different venues) Those were the days my brother-in-law.
    It was so heartwarming to see all the old pictures…..so thankful you still have them to share with those who were not blessed to have been there.
    know that Candy, Fran, Louise, Nana and Pop are proudly smiling down on you this Christmas Season !!! I’m not up there yet, but i do send my love and most heart felt wishes for a Merry Christmas & Happy New Year from Sechelt on BC’s Sunshine Coast. Don’t forget what the paper hanger said to the wall !!! ?

      • Oh Jonni! Thar ya go stirin’ thin’s up! Yastardays I cood nots evun spelll auther an’ tuday eye R wun. (big toothless grin)

    • Carol, It’s so nice of you to comment. My old friend, you knew me when I was just a young lad, You use to take care of Sally and I as our nanny for a while so dad and Louise could go out evenings to do shows. Then you met my brother and soon…. we had a new nanny. 😉 How time flies! Life takes no prisoners. The ranks are thinning. We must endeavor to persevere, as the great Chief once said. I remember when you ran that restaurant on No 3. road in Richmond. Dad would bring his whole crew down there for lunch and you always made the most delicious first class owntrays. Oh, and Christmas dinner at your house was always a perfectly choreographed masterpiece. Those days are gone forever, but not forgotten. Bless you, Carol. Merry Christmas to you. Our original Christmas Carol.

  6. Dear Christy:
    Thank you so much for the wonderful story about you and your family. This is the first time I heard how it began. I loved your Nana, Louise, and you. The 2 seasons that we spent in Barkerville were memorable. I still have the drawing you made for us, hanging on the wall. It is one of my proudest possessions. Tricia

    • Tricia, It’s terrific to hear from you again! After Umpteen years! I was just a goofy heart broken teenager back then and you and Bob really helped me out. Pointed me in the right direction and I never got to thank you guys for your kindness. So here now, I say Thank You- with a big hug. I was a mixed up kid in those days and really, had no one else I could trust who was sober on those long isolated warm nights in that ghost town. I never forgot the long talks we 3 would have. When I look back, it was the best of times.

  7. Fabulous post and video..Thank you so much for posting..I had no idea of this history of puppets and display items..fascinating. And I’ll definitely have a go at your method of making paste ??

    • Dru, Thank you for commenting, One of the first jobs my dad had when he was a teenager was to work in a display department of a big department store. Those were the days when department stores would compete to see who came up with the most lavish displays. Dad use to take me a specialty shop called Rutherford’s Supply House that catered to display departments. To go there was a real treat and see all the new stuff that was available to display departments. I remember seeing tinsel garlands three feet thick!”How much do you want?” and mylar christmas tree ornaments 5 feet tall. “We have these in thee foot models, too. Silver or gold.”Was really something.

  8. Hi Christopher, what a rich history in the creative arts you come from. I too made my paste from boiling it. I use vinegar in my paste as it helps in making sure mold does not invade my work and rodents and insect crawleys do not get to enjoy my work. Bleach is also another one to use for the same effect. But the two disifectants you mentioned will do the same thing. I live in the boonies where humans and mice live in the same domicile. My cat can’t catch them all. So, I do what I can to protect my paper mache projects. so far, so good.

    • Christine, Thank you for commenting. AH HA! I knew it wasn’t possible for my family to be the only ones to cook their paste. I’m glad you chimed in with your point of view. However, I will say that in the past we did try both vinegar and bleach and found them to be hard on the skin, wearas with Pine Sol or Lysol you don’t have that problem. Probably isn’t a problem if you were just doing a project for yourself, but when you got a job to do and your up to your elbows in paste all day, then that’s another thing. Dad tried putting pepper in the paste, but we never knew if that worked or not and proved to be an extra expense. I have wee mousies too here in old house. I also have 3 cats and the wee little blighters still manage to get up to some shocking mischief! But as the great bard once said, “May a mouse never leave yer pantry with a tear in it’s eye.”

  9. Thanks for sharing your fascinating family history with us and for sharing family recipes! I was so sad to hear of the demise of the snowmen and in such a public way! All that work! You have such a wonderful paper mache legacy!

    • Eileen, Thank you for commenting. I was very young at the time, but I remember I thought it was riotously funny, but I was alone in that. My dad was dismayed and my brother, who had the job of putting them up, was really pissed off. He had a major fight to install them and then he was the one who had to go down and deal with the mess. I forget what happened, if they managed to fix it or not. I was not very popular at the time with my stifled giggles.

    • Judy, Thank you for commenting. How’s Mr Punch? ( har har! a little puppetry humor there. {another voice says, “yes, very little”}) I’m glad you liked my article. A Merry Christmas to you!

  10. Wonderful story and I am doing my very first paper mache project and after several days of researching this is the paste I want to use! Thank you for sharing your knowledge!

    • Renee, Thank you for commenting. I am so pleased and proud to assist you with your very first paper mache project. Remember, if your paste is not like it is in my video when you fist mix it, don’t waist your time trying to save it. Toss it and try again. Keep tuned for my next article what will be time proven techniques as to how to work the paper. COMING SOON! To a computer screen near you 😉 Bless you and all you paper mache. You are most welcome.

  11. I have been seeing,for ages,examples on “the antiques roadshow”(UK) of fine objects from the 17th and 18th century,-trays,boxes,usually-made from papier mache,that looks incredibly fine-grained and hard!….some is actually shellacked afterwars…would anyone have more details about this process?….It speaks to me-I’d like to try it.

    • Clare, Thank you for commenting. Indeed I can tell you what you were looking at. You were most likely looking at “Lacquer Wear”. This stuff is often mistaken for paper mache because in fact it is a form of paper mache, only not done with traditional paste but with clear laquer. They use tissue paper that they tear into little bits and then spread them out on a tray. They they take the form, either made from wood or card stock and they start to paint it with lacquer with a small brush. While the lacquer is wet they pick up a piece of tissue paper with the brush and plaster that on over the wet lacquer, then proceed to repeat that thousands of times. after a while it builds up a hard smooth surface and it’s the artists skill that tells him where the next piece of tissue should go so the shape comes out perfect and smooth. Takes a long time just to make one piece and that’s why they are so expensive for the real ones. Mostly done in China and is an ancient craft. I’ve tried it. It’s not easy at all. Takes great dedication and skill. I’ve seen some wonderful objects. Just so perfect in finish and dimensions.

    • Hi Clare
      Shellac is a resin secreted by the female lac bug, on trees in the forests of India and Thailand. It is processed and sold as dry flakes and dissolved in methylated spirits to make liquid shellac.

    • Judy, Thank you for your comment. Giving a puppet personality is why I’ve been building puppets for clients for better than 45 years. This would include wiggling eyebrows, moving eyes, blinking, wiggling ears and even built in magic tricks. Sometimes just being funny looking is enough. Often it’s a matter of chance. Sometimes the best laid plans don’t work out the way it was intended.

  12. Thank you and your generous Family for sharing this idea with us. I am beyond happy that you chose to share with us. A Family secret that can now be passed down to other people so its not lost.

    Do you just run strips of paper through it and paste on your styrofoam ?

    • Delores, Thank you for your comment. It’s strange,but I never looked at it like it was a secret before. It’s been my experience that every time I try to tell people how to make it, they don’t care and say “Oh, I’ll just go buy commercial wall paper paste.” and that is that. However I do feel if I didn’t share the knowledge somehow, I ran the risk of it being lost forever. I’m surprised at, with all the paper mache web sites I’ve ever looked at, I’ve never seen paste like this. Usually it’s comercial stuff mixed up from a powder. Actually, I did a rather large project one time, making a whole bunch of display items to decorate an entire mall. On that job I used this commercial vinyl wallpaper paste and it was terrific, but expensive. Came in a tub as a gel and you mixed it with water how you like it, was clear and never went bad if left in the bucket.

  13. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the history of your family and how you became involved in paper mache. You were fortunate to have grown up in such a creative environment. I love when people are willing to share their knowledge. Jonni shares her secrets too. I had an aunt who created her famous tuna fish recipe. She would share her ingredients but not willingly and would always leave out the key ingredient. She is gone now but her son opened a deli called “Nana’s” and her tuna is one of the specialties. The recipe was passed on but is still secret! Thank you so much for sharing your recipe! I am a mosaic artist and am always looking for a lighter base to work with. I will definitely try Nana’s paste. Her recipe will live on. Thank you again.

    • Ronnie, Thank you for commenting. Indeed I was fortunate in some ways and not so fortunate in other ways. Living with creative artists is not always an easy row to hoe. Sometimes you can’t see the forest for the trees and all you can do is hoe to the end of the row. Nana’s Deli sounds fantastic! I love stories like that. Mosaics have always intrigued me. I admire the patience and foresight it must take. I think my favorit mosaics I’ve seen are the Roman ones they unearthed in Pompeii. Beautiful stuff! The colors are so subtle, it’s almost like it was painted. Your welcome for Nana’s paste secret. I hope you find new ways to use it.

  14. What lovely family stories you have. I used to use flour and water paste when I was a kid (still do, but rarely) but never with the hot water. Must try that, thanks so much for sharing your nana’s recipe.

    • Penelope, Thank you for your comment. I actually had to heavily edit my article, because there’s just too much information involved. But, it gives you an idea of where Nana’s paste recipe comes from, things that have been done with it and perhaps, that I’m not just farting “Annie Laurie” through a key hole. I hope you do try Nana’s paste. Your welcome.

  15. Christopher,
    What wonderful memories you have about your dad, mom, you, and family and friends! I enjoyed reading your guest article that I have yet to watch how your Nana taught you to make paste! I will watch that tonight. Thank you for sharing with Jonni and her followers! Teaching a man to fish…is still true today, as it is in the Bible! Wishing you a Happy Boxing Day, and a Merry Christmas, and a happy New Year!

    • Deborah, So nice of you to comment! I’m glad you enjoyed my article. I seem to have a fountain of memories overflowing in all directions. You can teach a man to fish only if he is willing to learn. Some will never learn which is sad because they stifle there own potential. If I am able to reach a few open minds, then it will be a Merry Christmas indeed. All the best to you and yours and a happy prosperous new year to you, too.

  16. Wow, that was such an adventure just reading this! What full lives all of these people lead. Thank so much for sharing your family’s stories with us Christopher.

    • Joni, Thank you for your comment. They did have unusual lives and, alas, only my siblings remain. We were in show business and were all very familiar, but don’t forget that familiarity breeds contempt. So sadly not all the stories are good ones. I will leave you with a poem by Longfellow.

      The Builders

      All are architects of Fate,
      Working in these walls of Time;
      Some with massive deeds and great,
      Some with ornaments of rhyme.

      Nothing useless is, or low;
      Each thing in its place is best;
      And what seems but idle show
      Strengthens and supports the rest.

      For the structure that we raise,
      Time is with materials filled;
      Our to-days and yesterdays
      Are the blocks with which we build.

      Truly shape and fashion these;
      Leave no yawning gaps between;
      Think not, because no man sees,
      Such things will remain unseen.

      In the elder days of Art,
      Builders wrought with greatest care
      Each minute and unseen part;
      For the Gods see everywhere.

      Let us do our work as well,
      Both the unseen and the seen;
      Make the house, where Gods may dwell,
      Beautiful, entire, and clean.

      Else our lives are incomplete,
      Standing in these walls of Time,
      Broken stairways, where the feet
      Stumble as they seek to climb.

      Build to-day, then, strong and sure,
      With a firm and ample base;
      And ascending and secure
      Shall to-morrow find its place.

      Thus alone can we attain
      To those turrets, where the eye
      Sees the world as one vast plain,
      And one boundless reach of sky.

  17. Hi Christopher,

    Just watched your video and was surprised how the flour and water turns so beautifully semi-transparent. I was wondering though, over time won’t the flour paste attract insects and be susceptible to rot and decay?

    • Patricia, Thank you for your comment. You are right. Rodents will eat the starch laiden paper if they can find it, but keep paper mache safe and dry and it will last hundreds of years. Just look at French automatons made in the 18th century. There paper mache heads are still in good shape and the wooden frames and mechanisms are still there, but the cloth clothing and hair has long turned to dust.

  18. Wonderful story.It brings so much in my mind but how important it is to have a good family and values. So nice the artistic blood is in you and glad you can share your recipe. I for sure will give it a try. Tks much from Brasil

    • Patrica, Thank you for your comment. I was lucky because both my parents were extremely talented individuals. As the saying goes, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. I’m glad to share my knowledge of paper mache. Right now I am working on the next article about techniques for applying paper. Keep at making paste until you get it right, don’t give up. If conditions are not exactly right, it won’t work properly. Consider this technique a Christmas present from Canada. 🙂


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