In 1885, at the age of 53, Hananuma Masakichi, an artist who worked in Yokohama, completed a life-size carved wooden figure of himself that was so lifelike that people who viewed the artist alongside his creation could not tell which was the man and which the copy (see close-up photos above and below). According to The Strand Magazine (1898):
The wooden figure seems to live and breathe. By many connoisseurs in art this is pronounced to be the most human and perfect image of a man ever created. It is the artist's own production of himself, reproducing every detail, even to the most minute scar, vein, and wrinkle.1
The figure is made up of between 2,000 and 5,000 separate pieces of wood,2 all of which were so skilfully dovetailed and joined together that even under a magnifying glass it is impossible to see any of the joins. Following construction, the figure was painted and lacquered to match it's creator's own skin tone perfectly, and Masakichi handcrafted glass eyeballs that are said to be so visually perfect that they baffle members of the optical profession.
Apparently, Masakichi created the figure after discovering that he was suffering from tuberculosis; it was to be his final project and it's said that he intended to leave it to the woman he loved. He used adjustable mirrors to view his own body from different angles, in order to exactly replicate every part of his anatomy. In his quest for perfection, Masakichi removed hairs from his own body and attached them to the wooden figure by means of tiny drilled holes which served as pores; each hair was attached in the exact position on the wooden figure that it had occupied on the artist's body. He then removed his own fingernails and toenails and attached them to the wooden figure. And if that weren't enough, he is said to have removed his own teeth and added those to the replica too. He finished the figure off with a pair of his glasses and his loincloth.
'For some months after its completion he posed on exhibition beside it to the utter confusion of the audience, who, even at close quarters, were quite unable to distinguish the artist from his counterfeit figure in wood.'3
Sadly, Hananuma Masakichi died in poverty ten years after the figure's completion, in the winter of 1895 at the age of 63. Following his death, the figure was owned by Ellis Bloch, who exhibited it at The House of Novelties and Curios, E. Block Mercantile Co., in San Francisco. It was also put on show at Chicago’s Century of Progress Fair in 1933. In the spring of 1934, the figure was purchased for $10 by Robert L. Ripley from the estate of the late E. Bloch; it went on show at the Ripley Odditorium in New York and was Ripley’s favourite and most treasured possession (see postcard above).
So, what's all of this got to do with the English Cotswolds, I hear you ask? Well, it is in the Cotswolds that you will find Snowshill Manor, which is located in the village of Snowshill, a mile (about five minutes by car) from Broadway. And it is in Snowshill Manor that you will find this remarkable fellow by Masakichi...
He's a carved wooden mask-maker and he's examining one of his little creations with a look of delight. At his feet are various tools used in wood carving and a larger wooden mask. The light wasn't very good in the room where he's located, but the images below give you some idea of the work that went into him and the great skill that Masakichi possessed. Just look at the veins in his temple, neck and chest! And, as with Masakichi's 'self-portrait', this fellow has real human hair.
The mask-maker was the favourite possession of Charles Wade, owner of Snowshill Manor before the National Trust took over. He is one of a set of figures, of which two are located at Snowshill, the other being the basket-pedlar bellow.
Wade collected all manner of handcrafted items and the house is full of fascinating objects; there are several sets of samurai armour and numerous other Japanese items, all handmade, in the rooms throughout the house. If you happen to be in the Cotswolds, it's very much worth a visit. The whole place is fascinating. Click here to see photos of the various rooms taken during my recent visit.
Details: Snowshill Manor, Snowshill, near Broadway, WR12 7JU. Click here to visit the web site.
1, 3 'Curiosities' in The Strand Magazine, March 1898, p. 358.
2 Records differ regarding the number of wooden strips used.