National Cartonnage Day

National Cartonnage Day: Delving into the Ancient Art of Egyptian Masking

National Cartonnage Day sheds light on a craft that often goes unnoticed yet holds significant historical and artistic value. Cartonnage, with its origins possibly tracing back to ancient Egypt, where it was used for making protective casings for mummies, has evolved over the years into a decorative art form. Craftsmen and hobbyists delicately layer paper or cardboard with textiles, often embedding intricate designs, patterns, or paintings to transform basic materials into exquisite works of art.

The boxes and cases made through cartonnage are more than just functional items. They are a testament to the artisan’s skill and creativity, often reflecting cultural, historical, or personal motifs. Whether they’re holding cherished trinkets, important documents, or standing alone as decorative pieces, they represent a harmonious blend of utility and beauty.

Celebrating National Cartonnage Day provides an opportunity to recognize the artisans who keep this traditional craft alive, encourage more people to learn about and engage in the craft, and to appreciate the blend of function and artistry that cartonnage represents. It’s a tribute to the timeless appeal of handcrafted items and the stories they hold within their layers.

Quick Facts:

  • Preservation: The dry climate of Egypt played a significant role in preserving cartonnage items, allowing us to study them today.
  • Symbolism: The images and texts on cartonnage often had protective or symbolic meanings, aiming to safeguard the deceased in the afterlife.
  • Recycling: In times of scarcity, older cartonnage cases were sometimes recycled and used to make new ones.
  • Discovery: The village of Deir el-Medina, home to workers who built the tombs in the Valley of the Kings, has yielded numerous cartonnage fragments and items, providing insights into the daily life of its inhabitants.
  • Technique: The process of making cartonnage is somewhat similar to papier-mâché, using layers of materials bound together with adhesive.

History of National Cartonnage Day

National Cartonnage Day celebrates a craft that seamlessly blends history with modern artistry. From its origins in ancient Egypt, where it safeguarded the eternal journey of mummies in the form of ornate, plaster-covered cases, cartonnage has transitioned through time. Today, it represents the intricate skill of box-making. This transformation speaks volumes about the adaptability and enduring appeal of the craft. The day emphasizes the versatility of cartonnage, from preserving cherished memories in decorative boxes to serving functional needs with unmatched elegance. In celebrating National Cartonnage Day, enthusiasts come together to share techniques, showcase creations, and reintroduce the younger generation to this age-old craft. By highlighting its significance, the day aims to ensure that cartonnage doesn’t become a lost art, but rather continues to inspire, evolve, and find resonance in contemporary contexts.

Significance of National Cartonnage Day

Cultural Legacy:

Cartonnage has roots in ancient civilizations, including the Egyptians who used it for mummification. The day serves to highlight this rich cultural legacy and its evolution over time.

Artistic Expression:

Cartonnage provides a platform for artisans to express their creativity. Each piece tells a story and reflects the individuality of its creator.

Revival of Traditional Crafts:

In a digitized world, traditional crafts like cartonnage can be overshadowed. This day serves as a reminder of the beauty and value of handcrafted items.

Economic Support:

Many artisans depend on cartonnage for their livelihood. National Cartonnage Day can stimulate interest and sales, supporting these craftsmen.

Observing National Cartonnage Day

Theme-Based Competitions:

Organize competitions where participants create cartonnage items based on specific themes or concepts. This can challenge artisans to think outside the box.

Craft Fairs:

Organize fairs dedicated to cartonnage, offering a platform for artisans to showcase and sell their work.


Showcase the history and significance of cartonnage through documentaries, enlightening viewers about this traditional craft.

Collaborative Projects:

Encourage collaborations between cartonnage artists and other craftsmen, leading to the fusion of different art forms.

Craft Tours:

For those interested in the production process, organize tours to workshops or studios where they can witness cartonnage being made firsthand. This immersive experience can offer a deeper appreciation for the craft.

Fun Facts:

  • Cartonnage cases were not limited to humans. Animals, such as cats or ibises, which were mummified for religious reasons, also had cartonnage casings.
  • Some cartonnage masks and panels are so well-preserved that the colors on them remain vibrant even today, thousands of years later.
  • Cartonnage was sometimes used to make foot coverings or sandals placed on the mummy’s feet.
  • During certain periods in ancient Egypt, it became popular to place layers of cartonnage with painted scenes or deities over specific parts of the mummified body.
  • In the 19th century, there was a trend of unwrapping Egyptian mummies in public, leading to the discovery and appreciation of many cartonnage pieces.


What is cartonnage?

Cartonnage is a material utilized by ancient Egyptians, made from layers of linen or papyrus glued together and covered with plaster. It was often molded to form various items, particularly funerary masks, cases, and panels.

How is cartonnage related to mummies?

Cartonnage was frequently used to create the protective cases for mummies, acting as an outer layer that could be painted and decorated with hieroglyphics and images relevant to the deceased.

Why is cartonnage important in archaeology?

Cartonnage pieces, especially when preserved, can provide insight into the religious, cultural, and societal practices of ancient Egypt. The texts and images on them are often sources of historical and religious knowledge.

How is cartonnage made?

Sheets of linen or papyrus were glued together, molded to the desired shape, and then covered with a layer of plaster. Once prepared, it could be painted or gilded.

Where can cartonnage artifacts be seen today?

Many museums around the world with Egyptian collections, like the British Museum or the Louvre, have cartonnage pieces, including masks and panels.

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