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Wax Museum History

What was once “The Southern Club”, Hot Springs’ largest and finest casino and supper club until the late 1960s, became the Josephine Tussaud Wax Museum in 1971. The museum was operated by E. L. Lane until July 2002, when it was purchased by the Roberts’ Family, who operate it very much like Mr. Lane. There are currently 38 exhibits featuring more than 100 wax figures on display. An extensive gift shop was added on the first level with an impressive display of keepsakes.

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The World of Wax

In recent years the popularity of wax figures has increased to a point where a visit to a wax museum is considered a must on any agenda for “fun.” But amusement was not considered with such figures in their early days. Until Roman times, they were associated with somber rituals, with gods and graves. In ancient Egypt, wax figures of deities were deposited in graves with other offerings as part of funeral rites. The Romans even brought a gala torch to the wax images. Some status-conscious families have kept wax effigies of ancestors on display and used them as part of family funeral processions.

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An Egyptian wax figure of a striding male figure

 

As early as 1721, a display in Hamburg was credited with bringing wax figures out of the realm of “art for the gentry” into the orbit of the masses, and soon no circus was complete without a wax display. Philippe Curtius, curator of the wax museum for Louis XVI, brought his niece Marie to Paris as his assistant. She became adept at the art and, after being thrown into the Bastille, was forced to sit at the foot of the guillotine every day and make paper mache death masks of the beheaded nobility. She married Francis Tussaud in 1795 and moved to London in 1801. In 1802, Madame Tussaud put her collection on display in London and subsequently toured England for many years before establishing a permanent museum in 1833.

In 1885, Gem Wax Models, creators of the figures on display at the Josephine Tussaud Wax Museum, began operations in London. Soon they were providing figures for theaters, shops, and museums. Using a beeswax base, Gem experimented until he found a formula that would resist extreme temperatures and would harden to a lifelike texture. It has the unique ability of becoming pliable at low heat and, since is ideal for making realistic figures.

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Keith Gems and staff outside the Gems factory 1950s

A German optical glass company provides lifelike medical glass eyes, and human hair from Italy is inserted strand by strand into the wax head. Fiberglass is used for the “body,” built to exact proportions. Hands, arms and any other visible body parts are made of wax, with the same process used for the heads. When the head is colored, the hair is set and styled in the appropriate coiffure, and the figure is then assembled. The desired costume is designed and, at last, the completed figure is ready for display.

Josephine Tussaud devoted her lifetime to the world of wax in the heritage of her great-great grandmother, Madame Tussaud. There is no connection between this museum and the London exhibit, but there is a long family history of wax modeling in Josephine Tussaud’s background. See wax art at its finest at the Josephine Tussaud Wax Museum in downtown Hot Springs, Arkansas.