David Mello creates the company he keeps — and he keeps plenty.
His house guests come with their own personalities: happy, sad, stoic, tortured, strong, confused, defeated, to name a few. But you can't figure all that out based on their voices or their bodies because they have neither. When you're a mask, the only tool you have to tell your story is the face the artist gives you.
"It's always been with me," Mello says. "I've always loved the idea of changing your appearance, the disguise, becoming something else. But to me, it's more about revealing rather than hiding."
For 30 years, Mello also has created masks for Bristol Community College theater students to use on stage. He says he is always amazed by the transformations he sees.
"The masks give a sense of freedom, the ability to become more than what you are and discover parts of yourself you didn't know you had," he says. "Masks let you do all of that."
"I love to take a character and then give them their own life," Mello says. "They all have two eyes, a nose, a mouth, yet by tweaking the shapes of the objects — the curve of the lip, the indenture of the eyes — you make a major difference. No two are alike. There's so much expression."
"As wonderful as it is to sell a piece, the thing I love most about being an artist is getting to show my work, share my thoughts and see people's reactions," Mello says.
"Fall River is where I grew up, my home, so it's a pleasure to display my work here, where people can see it."
Mello, a 1983 graduate of Southeastern Massachusetts University (now UMass Dartmouth), says some masks pose bigger challenges than others and take longer to complete. He says he keeps a sketch pad by his bed in case ideas come late at night.
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Plaster, wood, metal and a horseshoe crab shell are among the canvases Mello uses to craft three-dimensional faces, a talent sparked by his earliest memories of Halloween in Fall River.
"I'm a librarian by profession, but I'm an artist first," Mello says. "It's something that's in my blood."
Mello occasionally finds ways to work his art into his full-time job as children's librarian at Fall River Public Library, where he has worked for 30 years. An annual performance of "The Dragon Gate," an ancient folktale, stars shadow puppets Mello created.
The artist's work most recently appeared on stage in Little Theatre of Fall River's production of "The Wizard of Oz." Mello says the wizard mask, measuring 7 feet by 7 feet, is the largest mask he has ever created.
The ideas do come, but Mello says he doesn't always understand where they come from or why. He has questions, but he tries not to let them get in the way of the work.
"I go with the flow," he says. "It's all a part of the mystery. Maybe someday I will know."
The words are from a story written by Phil Devitt, editor for the Fall River Spirit
These are some performance masks designed by David Mello for the children's show, The Little Mermaid, which premiered April 25-28 of this year at Bristol Community College.