Winter is coming. Brace yourself for the invasion of Krampuses!

I am a big fan of Krampus runs (Krampuslaufen) and the village carnivals (Fasching) around Innsbruck. Initially I was drawn to them because they reminded me of the religious processions back home in Taiwan. Without doubt, the theatrical atmosphere of Fasching and Krampuslaufen easily gets the spectators hooked, no matter where they are from!

© Ichia Wu

Left: Krampuses from Osttirol © Ichia Wu / Right: Taiwanese gods* © Ming-Lun Wu
*None of the characters in Taiwanese processions represent evil.

Krampus Costumes and Their Creators

Well-made costumes are works of art and I couldn’t stop admiring them. Somehow I half-imagined the creators of these mythological costumes to be shaman-like.

The facial expression brings out the soul of the character, which means obtaining a captivating mask is crucial for the wearer. Recently, after learning that a visit to a mask carver (Larvenschnitzer) can be arranged, I eagerly made a fan pilgrimage to his studio in the village of Ellbögen (just south of Innsbruck). The roadside studio was indeed radiating magic!

© Ichia Wu

Where the magic happens! © Ichia Wu

The Krampus Larvenschnitzer (mask maker)

Mr. Norbert Danler, who just turned 60, set up the studio in an old barn in 1984. It is adorned with myriad works and is an impressive sight for the passersby on the narrow road day and night. He welcomed me and my interpreter and led us into his studio which was full of the smell of wood and fur. There were so many works and materials filling up the space that it felt as if we entered an overwhelming Aladdin’s cave.

© Ichia Wu

The works are left outdoors to mellow by weathering. Theft isn’t really a concern here, probably because bad kids are almost always eventually punished on the 5th of December. © Ichia Wu

Showing Talent at a Young Age

Mr. Norbert Danler’s carving experience started when he was only 10 years old. He completed his first mask (the left one in the picture below) at age 13.

He originally worked at a foundry but later had to change profession due to an accident at work. Eventually, he devoted himself more and more to wood carving and became a master maker of masks. He was not academically trained but his talent is apparent. His works are excellent combinations of observation, imagination and execution.

Krampus masks © Ichia Wu

Impressive masks by Mr. Norbert Danler © Ichia Wu

Shaping Horror

He explained to us the various stages of his mask-making. He doesn’t draw 2D drafts on paper. Instead, he analyzes the characters of the actual wood, contemplates and then directly works on it. Chainsaws are useful for the rough cutting in the beginning but the details are refined by hand chiselling. You can already see the charm in these masks in progress.

mask carver © Ichia Wu

Masks in progress by Mr. Norbert Danler © Ichia Wu

He emphasised that the majority of the materials used in his masks are natural. These include pine wood, horsehair, animal teeth, furs and horns, all of which are harmonious with the life in the Alps. Some of his acquisitions were already vintage when he sourced them from the descendants of hunters. At times, he uses driftwood instead of horns which are priced by length. The use of luxury material also reflects the commissioner’s status.

© Ichia Wu

Wooden masks are more comfortable to wear compared to the plastic ones popular in the ’80s. © Ichia Wu

© Ichia Wu

The “King” of Krampus owns a pair of empowering capra horns. © Ichia Wu

The Hidden Face

Being an artist myself, I had great interest in the inner side of his masks, as it might reveal additional information of the maker. This side is “the second face”, as Mr. Danler put it, because it has to match the wearer. He sized up our faces and told us the measurements within seconds because he is that experienced.

Honestly, the inner sides looked spookier than I expected!

© Ichia Wu

Spooky inside out! © Ichia Wu

Innovative Features

The articulated mask in the picture below is quite unusual. It consists of several parts which are connected by threads. I also saw a witch mask with a movable jaw.

© Ichia Wu

By the way, the beautiful mask in the back is adorable. © Ichia Wu

Some masks have openings directly in the “eyes” but many have the holes slightly below the “eyes” instead. This not only frees up the design from the proportion of human faces, but also allows the application of glass or plastic eyes. Mr. Danler showed us a few masks with eyes that can be lit up with the power of a hidden battery.

© Ichia Wu

Sometimes special effects are desired. © Ichia Wu

The openings in the “nose” are also crucial for ventilation as it is quite physically demanding to be a Krampus: the props are heavy and the movements wild. Mr. Danler told us that he once hid his signature in the nostril of a mask — only the most treasured masks are signed.

The Life Cycle of a Krampus/Fasching Mask

If the masks are not coated with paint, Mr. Danler suggests the owners to rub the wooden surface frequently with their hands. (When the colouring comes from water-based dyes, it doesn’t fall off just from rubbing.) This way, sophisticated and beautiful patina will be developed over time.

© Ichia Wu

The mask on the right was coloured with paint. Many years after its completion, an expanded knot in the wood caused some paint to fall off. Mr. Danler decided to keep its natural status instead of stripping off the 40-years-old paint. © Ichia Wu

During carnivals and Krampus runs, I have seen children wearing proper costumes, which certainly represented a considerable investment. If the owner cannot hand it down, what happens to the mask once it no longer fits? If it came from Mr. Danler’s studio, the owner has the option to bring it back and exchange it for a bigger one! Mr. Danler has some masks being circulated this way. The (proper) usage adds character to the masks. It is also possible to rent masks from Mr. Danler if you are a responsible person.

© Ichia Wu

Tuxers in Axams © Ichia Wu

The Roles Women Play in Krampus/Fasching Events

A few years ago I visited the lovely Matschgerer Museum in Absam (a village east of Innsbruck), and was told that only men are allowed to dress up as their traditional Fasching characters — including the witches. I asked Mr. Danler if women buy masks for themselves. The answer is yes. He told me that in Patsch, there is a female Schellenschlagen club performing in carnivals, but in many other places — such as Imst — the inclusion of female performers is definitely a taboo. So how do women participate in traditional parades? They are in charge of the maintenance of the exquisite costumes and also sell Schnaps (strong liqueurs) and pretzels during the event.

Wood Carving and Other Works

Although Mr. Danler is known as a Larvenschnitzer, his works are not limited to sinister Krampus/Perchte Larven (masks). He also makes delicate nativity figurines, realistic statues, decorative edelweisses and comical Tyrolean farmers. You could tell that he was really having fun making them.

© Ichia Wu

The one on the left was meant for Easter but tuned out to be too daring. Bears and their masters are common figures in carnivals. Mr. Danler doesn’t wear masks/costumes himself but his son did. © Ichia Wu

© Ichia Wu

The female figures are lamp holders ideal for wine cellars. © Ichia Wu

© Ichia Wu

“I feel like him most of the time!” said Mr. Norbert Danler jokingly. © Ichia Wu

Krampus Festival in Japan

This year his masks were proudly exhibited in “Krampus Japan”, a yearly festival held for the fourth time. I am actually not so surprised that the custom of Krampus is embraced in Japan where fine craftsmanship is highly appreciated.

Danke noch einmal, Herr Danler!

Mr. Norbert Danler is very charismatic and interesting. We felt so inspired by the visit! If you would like to contact him, the details can be found here.

© Ichia Wu

Owls bring you good luck! Mr. Danler kindly gave us several works of his as gifts. My gifts for him included a Krampus paper mask and a Spiegeltuxer badge that I made. © Ichia Wu

 

Notable & easily accessible Krampus runs (Krampuslaufen):

Igls : 2 Dec 2018 – by Bus J or 4141
Axams : 5 Dec 2018 – by Bus 4162

The photo on top of this page:  © Ichia wu