Mansbendel probably learned caricature carving as a boy in Switzerland. Starting as early as Candlemas (February 2) each year one may encounter the Roitschäggätä in the Lötschental. These are wild figures clad in fur and hiding behind impressive wooden masks. The Roitschäggätä are in fact the young unmarried lads from the different villages of the Lötschental who hide behind their often-handmade wooden masks, frightening passersby and playing pranks. This tradition sometimes became so reckless in bygone days that the church repeatedly had to prohibit it. Today, the Roitschäggätä chiefly roam through the valley on Maundy Thursday, while there is a masked parade in the village of Wiler on the Saturday prior to Ash Wednesday.
As ancient the grimacing masks with their teeth stumps and attached fur may appear, their history can actually not be traced back further than the late 18th century. The masks from the Lötschental, which are now often the work of professional or amateur woodcarvers, have become sought-after souvenirs. as this is still practiced today. Every year, towards the end of winter, Carnival (Fasnacht) breaks out in the streets, alleyways and squares of towns. This is a glittering outdoor party, where chaos and merriness reign and nothing is as it normally is. Strange characters in fantastic carved masks and costumes make their way through the alleyways, while carnival bands (Guggenmusigen) blow their instruments in joyful cacophony and thousands of bizarrely clad people sing and dance away the winter.
These first caricatures below were created for the country home of Dr. R.W. Shippe on Bee Cave Rd. The caricatures are of some of Peter’s closest friends. On the left is Dewey Bradford, an Austin art dealer. The figure in the middle appears to be Paul Wakefield (a similar version is on Wakefield’s home) and the face on the right is his Swiss friend Godfrey Flury. The carver did a masterful job of utilizing the wood grain to give character to the faces. These were dry scrubbed by Peter with a wire brush to expose the hard grain. Again, a Swiss technique utilized in mask making and something he probably learned as a boy.