Monster Helmet Redux

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I am replicating the Wallace Collection’s fascinating a82 painted sallet again – and this time you can watch! The original is a type of full-visored sallet sometimes called an “owl-face sallet.” It sports a distinctive paint job featuring a grimacing monster on its visor, multicoloured pin-stripes, a star on the back and a Nuremberg “И” on each side – football helmet style.

The helmet under the paint of the original is a rough one, but its bumpy black-oxide surface actually served as a good primer for the paint and would have saved considerable time during construction. To save even more time, my version uses two parts, welded, to form the skull of the helmet – a top and a skirt. Here you can see the parts roughly assembled:

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After forming the skull and visor, I heated and conformed the parts to make smooth transitions and to create a uniform oxide finish for the paint, then installed a catch-pin on the right-hand side. The inside was painted, a leather band and chin-strap loops riveted in – and it was ready for a base coat of paint.

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Yikes! That is the kind of picture I usually cringe to send to a customer. It is hard to reassure anyone that their project is on the right track when it looks so irreconcilably different from the original. At least after having made one already, I can quiet my own anxiety!

The oil-based paint dries slowly, so I left it to sit for a few days before laying out the designs. I used soft charcoal, to avoid tearing the surface of the fragile, partially-set paint.

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Like the underlying helmet, the original’s paint job substitutes sprezzatura for symmetry. Capturing that kind of confident spontaneity poses a challenge to the maker of replicas – attempt to copy every stroke and it will be lifeless; attempt to paint with bold strokes and it may not look like the original. I think mine is falling somewhere in-between, which is about all I can hope for.

After blocking out the colour flats and black lines on the visor, I marked out the pinstripes and Иs on the skull.

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The majority of the work having been done, the helmet still looked far from how it should. What is need to bring it to life were washes, glazes and hatching. After that, I made a pair of rivets with the right-sized heads for the visor pivots, stitched the liner in and peened it together. Done!

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Well, time to set down the paint brush and take up the hammer again, before those callouses come off.

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