Bellymasks preserve pregnancy memories
Eileen Kerlin Walsh delivered her second baby in March. But hanging from the cathedral ceiling in her Oak Lawn home is a life-sized memory of her first—a plaster mold of her pregnant belly.
Kerlin Walsh saw a pregnant bellymask at an art exhibit in San Francisco.
“I was fascinated by it,” she says. When she became pregnant with her first son, she went in search of a local artist to do the same for her. She found Theresa Suchy McGraw, a mother of twin 10-year-old girls in LaGrange who has made bellymasks her business for the last two years.
“A pregnant bellymask is a plaster gauze cast of a woman’s pregnant form,” she says. “It’s a three-dimensional piece of art.”
It also is a process that takes about 90 minutes. Suchy McGraw applies warm strips of plaster gauze to the belly. If desired, the woman’s breasts and shoulders can be included in the mask. Fathers can cast their hands on the mother’s belly. The plaster sets before the mask is released and reinforced with gesso, a type of plaster used for sculpture. The result is a durable, lightweight replica of a woman’s body.
“It’s a very intimate experience,” she says. The process is done in a woman’s home, where she is comfortable, in her ninth month of pregnancy. “It’s very relaxing. Some women say it’s like getting a massage.”
While some women choose to display their bellymasks as unpainted works of sculpture on their walls, others decorate them with their families or commission Suchy McGraw to paint them.
“They’re custom-done to each mother and father’s experience with their pregnancy. It’s a very personal piece of art.” One customer’s baby was conceived in Las Vegas. The parents named the baby Vegas and had the “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign painted on their mask, surrounded by a slot machine, cards, dice and the Bellagio Hotel.
The bellymask hanging from Kerlin Walsh’s ceiling is reminiscent of her Celtic origin. It is painted with a black background and green and orange trim; in the center is an orange orchid opening to reveal a baby inside. She commissioned her second bellymask in March, before her baby was born, and plans to hang it right beside the first.
“It’s one of the most wonderful things I’ve done for myself,” she says. “It’s a fabulous piece of art. There are some people who would be horrified by the experience and some who are interested in it. You have to love the female form, you have to see it as beautiful.”
Suchy McGraw’s bellymasks cost from $125 for a belly up to $600 for a smooth finished cast of the belly, breasts, shoulders, arms, torso and hands. Travel, shipping and painting costs are separate, beginning at $150. To contact Suchy McGraw, call (708) 588-0275 or visit www.artbodyandsoul.com.
-- Matt Alderton