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Mask-making stew explores her creative, artistic side

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All that Stew Caroline von Broembsen needs to satisfy her urge to create art is a 4-foot by 2-foot space, a glue gun and some swatches of leather, silk, satin, and perhaps a few feathers and Swarovski crystals.

Von Broembsen, 44, is a native of South Africa who has found a way to combine her need to craft with the love of traveling.

“I used to be an architect, and I used to do a lot of creative stuff,” von Broembsen said. “I met somebody who was in yachting and going overseas, and I always wanted to be on the sea. I wanted to learn how to sail.”

Stew Caroline von Broembsen creates handcrafted masks for masquerade balls and other events as a side career. PHOTO/SUZETTE COOK

Stew Caroline von Broembsen creates handcrafted masks for masquerade balls and other events as a side career. PHOTO/SUZETTE COOK

Three years into her crew career, von Broembsen said, “I’m not new to yachting and I’m not new to masks, but I’m new to combining the two.”

She started making masks five years ago after receiving a request from her cousin to duplicate a peacock hairpiece.

“I made a few more because there was a trend going on with creations for hair for weddings,” she said. “Then my friend said there is a wedding on and they wanted to have two masks for the grooms. They wanted to arrive in leather masks. I really enjoyed it, so I started a sideline making masks back in South Africa.”

Von Broembsen’s next job was a tall one.

“A celebrity was getting married and she e-mailed me, could she have 140 masks for her wedding?” she said. “So that was how I got into it. I love masks; I find them fascinating.”

Each mask is custom made and priced according to the materials used and time involved.

“They’ve got a solid base covered in satin, silk, chiffon,” she said. “I’ve covered them with leather, crystals, peacock feathers. I have an Etsy store, but I normally sell directly to people.”

Von Broembsen said she definitely uses her architecture background when creating her masks. She studied architecture at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, beginning with residential house architecture before branching into upmarket interiors and apartment renovations.

Stew Caroline von Broembsen creates handcrafted masks. PHOTO/SUZETTE COOK

Stew Caroline von Broembsen’s masks. PHOTO/SUZETTE COOK

“I do use architecture for the structural aspect” of her masks, she said. “I want to make a mask that is solid, so you have it in four years time. That you’ve either framed it on the wall as decor or worn it to 20 events. It’s always an aspect that is foremost in my mind, that the structure must be put together very well.”

Jill Maderia, crew division coordinator with Denison Crew, wore one of von Broembsen’s masks to a masquerade-themed event recently and received compliments on it.

“She made a mask for me for an event I was having,” Maderia said. “They’re beautiful, and I still have it out on my dresser because it is so pretty. It’s like a piece of art, it’s so beautiful. She’s such a creative girl.”

Charter boats that create themed events for guests would have fun with her designs, she said.

“If they order something and then keep them onboard, then they can say ‘we’ve already got this gold or black-and-white-themed mask,” von Broembsen said. “It can branch into Swarovski crystal eye patches for pirates, starfish for mermaids. There can be so many different things.”

Chief stews, deckhands and yacht owners have all approached her to create custom designs that start at $40 each.

“I just feel that the quality of accessories and things that people wear to events can be quite magical,” von Broembsen said. “Masquerades have an elegance to them, and it works well on a yacht. In Venetian times, they would go to parties and flirt behind a mask and people wouldn’t know who it was. I think it’s that whole veil of illusion, sensuality, beauty.

“All of that is in a little bit of the unknown, not necessarily the known,” she said. “I like to make things for people who go to a party and when they walk out after, they feel like they had an amazing time because they’ve stepped into another reality. They [the masks] are about creating characters.”

Von Broembsen’s next goal is to start making masks out of recycled materials.

“I’d like to create masks that have a purpose about the ocean, but also bring in the glamour and glitz,” she said. “I’m lucky because I can visualize easily, and creativity always finds its way.”

Suzette Cook is editor at The Triton. Comments on this story are welcome at suzette@the-triton.com.

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