Bobbing in dark waves of late night web-surfing, I got sucked into a vortex of handcrafted masks, namely the ones by California artisan Tom Banwell. I knew I had to tell my fellow Pandas about him! Banwell operates his business in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. I was amazed to learn that he has no formal art training and is largely self-taught. As a child, he was fascinated with helmets and other hats which he collected.

His path to professional leather mask-making has been a steady rise with deep roots, starting in 1972 Lake Tahoe: a job making belts, purses, and sandals. Four years later he was already running his own successful business designing and making men’s Western leather hats. After selling that business, he got into casting resin. Banwell was innovative in the way he learned to imitate bronze, marble and wood using resin. In 2008, he hit his stride in the discovery of leather mask-making, his passion and business to this day. He incorporates resin with his leatherwork which adds to the richness of his masks.

From his Etsy About page:

“I love experimenting and seeing how leather behaves when cut and soaked and twisted. I love the shapes and the colors, and how my masks and helmets can instantly transform the wearer into a whole other character.”

But my fellow Pandas, does yours truly have a soirée to attend? Or a masquerade à la Eyes Wide Shut? Alas, no. I haven’t even been invited to bob apples anywhere! (Yet). So, I made this list for all of us who aren’t officially partygoers: A guide to finding a reason to raid the piggy bank and get all incognito-like…

(All of the following masks can be found on Tom Banwell’s Etsy page, just click the photo links in each pic).

More info:

For rising to any occasion

= Phoenix Leather Mask =

If your flirting does a crash-and-burn at the Halloween fête, no biggie. Just imagine how you’ll rise from the ashes in fabulous fashion.

Banwell cuts this lightweight mask from vegetable tanned leather, then hand shapes it while wet to fit a face. Once dry, he paints it in orange blending into red and finally black, and seals it with acrylic.

For obligations you want to avoid like the plague

= Plague Doctor Mask =

This mask is riveted together for a riveting appearance at the masquerade. It’s also hand-stitched, (but fortunately for you, I have no pun for that aspect of craftsmanship).

It comes with a series of nine ventilation holes on the bottom of the beak for ease of breathing,–(if you pass out, it will be from binge-drinking, not mask-wearing).

For late night singing/midnight snacking

= Leather, Aluminum, and Acrylic Steampunk Plague Doctor Mask =

Specially designed with the mouth uncovered, you can belt out a power ballad (or satisfy the munchies with ease). Oh, and this mask is hella sturdy for the wildest guitar solo. (handstitched, riveted, and screwed).

For galloping about town

= Leather Unicorn Mask =

Ditch the mascara and don the mask, seriously. Amazing leather eyelashes mean lash game STRONG. (And you don’t have to be strong to wear the mask as the horn is hollow and extremely lightweight).

For enchanting a Little Red Riding Hood

= Leather Wolf Mask =

Guaranteed to turn any would-be granny (or grand-pappy) into Little Red Riding Hood’s worst nightmare. (While still being a sweetheart).

This super lightweight yet deadly serious wolf mask is made of medium weight top grain premium grade cowhide, shaped over a faceform and painted your choice of black or gray with white highlights. (Choices, I love choices!)

For hippity hoppity bar-hopping

= Leather Bunny Mask =

A cute AF bunny mask (which, btw, could really bring some spice to a bland Easter brunch, right?) It’s crafted from medium weight veg tanned leather, Banwell wet forms it. He paints it red, so you can paint the town red.

For opening the door when your annoying neighbor knocks

= Steampunk Plague Doctor Mask =

This will be the last time your neighbor annoys you, guaranteed.

Made of medium weight veg tan leather with cold cast aluminum eyepieces, beak and ventilators. Steel dome rivets and buckles, and solid brass rings, complete the look. This mask is all handstitched with waxed thread. The domed cage eyepieces make it hard for people to look in, but fairly easy for the wearer to look out. No lenses, so nothing to fog up as you stare daggers at everyone about you.

For checking out books and babes in rare style

= Leather Art Nouveau Mask for Eyeglass Wearers =

As a proud anti-contact-lenses wearer, this mask personally appeals to me!

An altered version of Banwell’s standard mask, it’s specially designed to be worn comfortably with eyeglasses. (The area over the bridge of the nose is left open, and the temples can fit over or through the cutouts).

For blind dates

= OptiScope Goggles, aka Optiscopic Spectacles =

Your date will appreciate your blind appearance no doubt.

These steampunk goggles are made out of top quality veg tan leather and cold cast aluminum. The lenses are domed vacuum-formed acrylic, protected by steel rings.

Comfort, comfort, comfort: The goggles weigh just 11 oz (312 gm) plus the inside nose section has a neoprene pad for added comfort.

For when nature calls

= Leather Raven Mask =

Obviously, ladies never go to the ladies room alone. And while you can’t powder your nose with this mask on, you can certainly gossip about who came with whom to the party, (and who left with whom).

Because of all the cut outs it weighs just 1½ ounces, which means it will be comfortable to wear long into the night.

Now I know you want to go check out his stuff at and get sucked into the vortex just like I did.