W hen Charles Buggs stepped in front of a sixth-grade class at Floyd Dryden Middle School on Thursday, he was carrying a bag full of faces.
A box of eyes and noses was on a nearby counter. Each student held an assemblage of "bones," waiting to hear how to flesh out their creations with paper and glue.
Buggs is a master at making masks, and for the past few weeks he has been sharing his accumulation of knowledge with hundreds of Dryden students.
To create masks, Buggs uses a technique he developed that starts with chipboard strips that are curved and affixed into a symmetrical oval, with an arching grid in the middle.
Then, with pieces of paper - cut-up grocery bags, for example - covered in glue, he fills the gaps and builds the mask's unique character.
He adds facial features by molding around pieces of cardboard and wire, then paints and decorates the mask. When done, his smooth, sturdy creations have the appearance of carved wood.
He has published a book about his technique, called "The Art of the Paper Mask," and at Dryden he has been teaching students the basics while giving them latitude to explore.
"I provide templates, but I encourage them to use their own ideas," he said. "I like their ideas a lot better."
One student found a way to construct a double mask off a single frame; another found an interesting way to create his mask's eyes.
"He took a plastic spoon, broke the handle off and used the bowl," Buggs said. "I'm going to use that at some point."
Students have had a lot of freedom in the themes for their masks, with some sticking to class study topics and others going out on their own.
"We're studying Greek mythology, and that's how we're coming up with most of our ideas," said sixth-grader Dylan Stuart, who was creating a paper Poseidon. "But it's basically whatever you want."
Themes among his classmates ranged from Matt Krauss' Medusa to Tracy Ralston's geisha to a one-eyed visage created by Nicole Maki, who said that the project was "really cool because of all the glue that gets on your hands."
Buggs is spending about two weeks with more than 200 sixth-graders. Earlier this month he made masks with about 170 seventh-graders, many of whom made ceremonial, theatrical, funerary or other kinds of masks relating to Pacific Rim nations they were researching.
"They were all very excited to do the masks and have them correlate with their country," seventh-grade teacher Jessie Richards said. "They took so much pride in this project."
The amount of work can be judged by the five gallons of Elmer's Glue used to date, and by the colorful masks that now line the school's corridors.
"It brings a smile to me every time I walk down the halls and see this many masks in one school," Buggs said.
Andrew Krueger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.